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TRAGEDY

I was moved to read my friend Bishop Dan Martins’  latest blog in which he described his range of feelings and thoughts as an old and valued priest and friend submitted to the Roman Catholic Church. I largely share his expressions of grief and sorrow. I do understand how frightfully difficult it is for Catholic-minded Episcopalians to stay in and witness. I do understand how attractive the Ordinariate must seem to those who wish to retain some parts of their Anglican heritage while entering a sphere of new ministry in which priesthood may be exercised without apology.

 

+Dan’s blog emerged at about the time we were informed of Bishop Saul’s Powerpoint presentation to the House of Bishops meeting in Quito. The bishop, whose non-ecclesiastical title escapes me, now assists the Presiding Bishop. He calls for a radical restructuring of TEC, a leaner model for leaner times. For over a decade now brave souls have noted the steep decline in membership and finance TEC is experiencing. At first, as is common with institutions, the response was denial or platitudes that Christianity isn’t about numbers, an astounding and foolish reaction. Christianity began with the command to “Go tell and make disciples.” No time limit was attached to that commandment. When all is said and done, the primary reason for TEC’s decline is not defections to other churches or none, and certainly not structural inertia, although both are factors, but utter confusion about our identity and message. Tragically ecumenism has played its part in all this. Rather than offering to other churches the best we are, we have become embarrassed to advance our claims and heritage.

 

We have also become obsessed with a few “progressive” causes and adopted them wholesale from society without “baptism” or “conversion”. We seem to be a club for “progressive” Americans. Those who have left us often look like clubs for the Tea Party! In part this has happened because we have lost the ability to do our theology from the strengths of our tradition. In place of this method, we have constructed “theologies” based on specific causes, such as feminist theology, liberation theology, gay theology, which by definition narrow our broad thinking about God into narrow paths in which the cause describes and limits thought about God.

 

The vast majority of Americans, whatever their politics, struggling to survive in a frightful economy, are left out of the message we offer. It isn’t so much that this majority disagrees with us. It is that they find nothing in our message which is transforming, which brings them into a relationship with God in the community of the church. We resemble a store whose management constantly rearranges the interior and streamlines the staff without considering that loss of sales is all about unattractive merchandise and steep prices.

 

I do not suggest that a return to the message results in an old-fashioned conservative church. I am suggesting that zeal for the Gospel transforms and renews all our causes and theories.

 

One last point for now. The past forty years have been heady times for those who relish the role of prophetic reformer. Almost nothing has escaped their enthusiasm for change. Goodness knows how many babies have been ejected with gallons of bath water. There have been many moments in church history when enthusiasm has swept away heritage. Anglicanism as a separate face of Christianity emerged at such a moment at the Reformation. Yet these upheavals are usually followed by a period when that which has been lost is recaptured and appreciated. I pray we are approaching another such moment.

3 Responses

  1. Thanks Tony+,

    Down here in Peru I like to think that we have this right, though we are very far from perfect. It is about mission and ministry with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ being one of hope and transformation that is both spiritually and socially transforming.

    Two more things.
    We have to LIVE the Gospel and not simply speak the message. The messenger must embody the message.
    As clergy we are given the “cure of souls.” sadly this too has been traded for causes – or to be biblical “sold for a mess of pottage.”

    Good to have you back at your incisive best.
    Blessings – Ian

  2. Fr. Tony,
    Thanks for putting into words what anxiety has reduced to mental fog for me these past few years.

    Consider me a person who wants to be part of the “reclamation of lost babies.”

    Tom Adamson

  3. I too appreciate Bp. Martins’s unhappiness. In my own case, it was the man who gave me communion and who married me and who is now on his third ordination. His repudiation of his former church, the implication that every eucharist he ever celebrated before me was false: these hurt me very badly at the time, and while managed to forgive this, the estrangement is likely permanent.

    I am also relieved to see that it is not only I who sees a number of conservative Anglican blogs and wonders at the seeming union of their church and neo-con politics.

    Finally, for some years I have ineffectually complained about ECUSA’s loss of nerve about who we are, and never mind the communion as a whole. It’s not just in theology either, moral or otherwise: at too many Episcopal parishes these days one encounters a liturgy which has turned away from the BCP and the hymnal to use other materials that aren’t ours. It would be one thing if it were a question of borrowing the good from others, but more often it seems an act of some desperation born out of the doubt that there is any power left in the way we used to do things.

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