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Finally we are getting honest about our decline? What decline? Oh you mean that we are losing thousands of parishioners, and so affirm the 815 statistics staff? Some are leaving because they object to a bishop living in a non-celibate relationship with another person of the same gender. Others are concerned that same-sex blessings, although illegal and counter to Canon Law, will become such a growth industry in TEC, that our parishes will be inundated with gay, lesbian and transgendered people, blocking up the available time when clergy usually marry men and women.

Some are founding new missions under a bevy of African, South American and Asian bishops. Others group around Pittsburgh’s Bishop Bob Duncan’s “Network”. A few still go to the “continuing churches”. Two priest friends of mine are eventually going to Rome.

I’m told by others, that it all doesn’t matter –unless one is the church treasurer – because numbers aren’t the thing. The thing is quality. Once purged of old duffers like me, the new TEC will be a stream lined adjunct to the left wing of the Democratic Party, just as the Network has resumed Anglican’s old vocation to be the Conservative Party at prayer.

“Go into all the world and make disciples.” Not only is that a very straight forward command, it was a thoroughly sensible idea. Unless Christianity was to remain a Jewish sub-sect, with its “815” in the Upper Room, it had to grow. And so it did. It grew because it was fervent in the belief that Jesus is Lord. Everything had changed. History was different and would be until Kingdom come.

Meanwhile, marked by baptism, demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit and holiness of life, the church grew and grew until one day, the persons who say that the church shouldn’t grow, were part of the growth, as babies, teens or adults.

The last great growth spurt for TEC was in the late 1950’s. The old Prayer Book was still the liturgy of the church, Morning Prayer rivaled the Eucharist in many of the dioceses, the same old favorite hundred hymns from the 1940 hymnal were sung and most bishops never wore a miter.

Now I’ll grant you that it was a very different world. I’ll grant you that much we have done in re-arranging our worship, ceremonial, “worship-spaces” has been excellent. I’ll grant you that America has become a much more mobile society with atomized or divided families scattered all over the place. I may even grant that we are in a post-modern world, although I seriously doubt whether most of the population knows what that means if it means much at all.

To my mind we are rather like a restaurant chain which decides to revamp all the interiors, order new menus, and then forgets to issue the order to put the Open sign on the doors. And the menus are not comprehensive. They offer a narrow diet of either liberal or conservative proportions. There’s not much mystery to them, and there’s not much substance either.

“See these are they who turn the world upside down.” The congregational development people have some very good ideas links to which may be found on the TEC web site. That one man show, “The Magnetic Church” trundles around the country teaching evangelistic methods, some of which I use in this parish. The only gap, I suppose a small one, is that we don’t seem to know much about who we are, what we are, and what we are offering. I am appalled by the general ignorance about our history and heritage. We shall have been here four hundred years in 2007. I haven’t heard much about it. I’ve heard plenty about how clever we all were in founding, making it ourselves, a new democratic, American brand church a couple of hundred years ago; which we did and didn’t. But that’s all about trying to put down those overseas Anglican churches which have Lord Bishops appointed by monarchs.

We seem to know little about a theology of the church, rather than the composition of a human society. We know not much about the Bible except to repeat the mantra that there all now all sorts of interpretations, equally valid, make of it what you please. Sit in a circle and emote about a passage. Doctrine? Moral Theology?

People are drawn by our liturgy, by our liberality, and by our ethos. Really? Well that has always been true, but it is less and less true now. Some parishes try to emulate the Mega Churches with some success, and one predicts the same inherent personality problems eventually.

The main problem is, as I see it, we are dominated by two conservative parties, both in that stage of decay when past out of the box endeavors have become firmly in the box laws. The sixties produced the liberals, and in a tiny experiment, the Ambridge PA seminary, the birth place of modern American Anglican Evangelicalism. Nearly fifty years later, these two movements, born in excitement, now spend their time and hours embraced in a dance macabre. The rest of us in TEC, the silent majority only produce soloists and can’t do much together and we probably represent 70% of the parishioners, if the surveys from 815 are to be believed. Our bishops are too scared to associate with the moderate Windsor lot, and too self-conscious to abandon the left entirely. Yet in these Prayer Book people, to whom the mission of the church is still reflected in what that book teaches as it prays, may be found the identity of our church, its reason for being and its mission to the watching world. These central people reflect that which our church officially teaches, how it is ordered, and how it worships. This does not mean a rejection of new ideas, new strategies, new vision. It does mean that everything we undertake is placed at the bar of Scripture,in the living Tradition, by sanctified, on the knees Reason, because “it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service” (Collect for this week) It is high time our moderate bishops gave unified, clear and challenging leadership.

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One Response

  1. Dear Tony+
    Well written and to the point. You have a way of making the mess very clear and concise.
    Best wishes.
    Frank P+

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