Yet another commission reports that TEC is in steep decline. We are helped to digest this news with the sweetener that there are good things going on as we decline! So what happened to us?
The extraordinary thing about all this is our fairly sudden and dramatic collapse. The late fifties were a time of growth in numbers, income and “membership” both in England and the US. Over 3 million people in the US identified themselves as Episcopalians. New church plants were on the rise and special shorter courses were established in seminaries to train older men for ordination. For the CofE, things were better than at any time since Victoria died.
I do not for a moment believe that suddenly in the sixties people became less religious or religiously inclined. I do believe that Anglicanism lost its nerve. I do believe that we began to produce a leadership, lay and ordained, that assumed that the voices heard in academia and among the “culture-vultures” reflected the thoughts of most people. Yet the “intelligentsia” of that day – I am not speaking of truly educated people – no more reflected the feelings and thoughts of every day people then than they do now.
We went for a ride with “right thinking” people and still not cannot get it into our heads that these people, what ever their social or political ideals, are a vocal minority.
The vast majority of people were left out of this small company of the self-obsessed. As the church concentrated on flirting with this self-important minority it forgot the majority and the majority more and more forgot the church. It forgot the church because it was neglected. The daily lives of the majority, the stresses and strains of earning a living, marriage, divorce, old age, births and deaths, ceased to be the concern of the church, or seemed so to do. Yes, the church rightly tackled racism and discrimination, but these seemed issues somehow apart from the reality of daily living, except for those being championed. The church placed a low priority on offering the Gospel and inclusion in itself to those it championed in society.
The church took grand stands about sexuality, or racism, and seemed to jump from one Cause to another. Yet the cause of ordinary folk didn’t seem to register. What did “post-modernism” mean to people who hadn’t realized they were “modern”?
So we tinkered with liturgy and became less noticeably what we claimed to be. In our ecumenical delight we forgot that if we actually looked more like Lutherans or Roman Catholics and couldn’t express in any meaningful way why we are not Lutherans or Roman Catholics people might not find us interesting or compelling.
We have lost all but the most cause driven or the most devout because we have become irrelevant. We seem to be a club for tasteful, right-thinking people, mostly “progressives” now we have let go the tasteful, right-thinking conservatives, whose message is as narrowly culture-bound as that of liberals.
“The hungry sheep look up and are not fed.” So they graze in other fields. They are “secular” not because they have lost the capacity for faith, but because our obsessions don’t touch their lives.
Sorry to be so lugubrious. But it is Advent!
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