Here is a look at just some of what may lie ahead for the Episcopal Church in 2012. Feel free to add your thoughts.
The Episcopal Church will continue to be involved in property litigation with breakaway factions. It will win most, possibly all, of these cases. At some point, when it becomes clear that in most areas, the increasingly less relevant Anglican Church in North America is not actually a threat to the future of the Episcopal Church, perhaps these matters will be handled through negotiation.
Episcopalians will watch with a mixture of bemusement and frustration as Rowan Williams and John Sentamu play the same kind of hardball they resorted to when it appeared Jeffrey John might become the Bishop of Southwark to make sure that the Anglican Covenant is approved by the General Synod of the Church of England. Friends in the C of E, what is the likelihood of a “we will let women be bishops if you let us be pretend we rule a unified global church” kind of deal?
In our own political affairs, the General Convention, which meets in Indianapolis in early July, will probably authorize, at least on a trial basis, a rite for the blessing of same-gender relationships. Some bishops will not allow the rite to be used in their diocese, raising an interesting question that won’t be immediately addressed by the church, about whether bishops should be allowed this kind of discretion. The campaign for marriage equality will continue.
The convention will probably decline, at least at present, to sign on to the Anglican Covenant. Executive Council has recommended against signing the covenant, saying it would probably require constitutional and canonical changes. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has suggested that it is not the document that the Communion needs. (The Chicago Consultation has released a good study guide for parishes and deputations wanting to consider the matter in detail.)
If the convention votes against adopting the covenant, the church’s adversaries in other provinces will seize the opportunity to demand that ACNA be allowed to sign the covenant. ACNA’s current leadership will no doubt welcome this, but a look at the churches that ACNA is currently planting—some of which are shortlived, others of which take hold—the alliances it is currently cultivating, and the younger leaders who are emerging, suggest to me, that its interest in the Anglican Communion will not outlive its founding leaders, although the church itself well might.
The convention will also consider whether to embrace Bishop Stacy Sauls’ proposal to hold a special convention to restructure the church. Restructuring is necessary. It is also perilous. My fears are a) unintended consequences resulting from a restructuring conducted by people with a limited understanding of how legislative bodies actually work, and b) a centralization of authority in the Office of the Presiding Bishop—an office that I think already wields too much power. My hope is that a cadre of leaders will emerge who can help us transcend internecine politics, and move forward.
We will continue to try to rebuild the church in Haiti. We may or may not continue to be challenged by the Occupy movement. The Diocese of South Carolina will continue to take provocative but largely symbolic actions aimed at eliciting a response from the wider church. We may or may not become more sophisticated in our understanding of how institutions that control large amounts of money—such as Trinity Wall Street and the Church Pension Fund—make decisions that affect the entire church.
We will understand with deeper urgency that if we don’t attract more people to the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church will wither and die. Those of us who are concerned about the church’s survival and flourishing will patiently endure lectures from seminary-educated people who will inform us that our theology is wanting, that survival is not the word we should be using, that you can’t judge fidelity to the gospel by the number of bodies in the pews, that Jesus was not concerned with earthly success, that if we just preach the gospel the rest will take care of itself and other things that may be true, but are not necessarily to the point.
Then maybe we will focus on the myriad of faithful ways in which we can make our churches more visible and appealing to our friends, neighbors and the strangers in our midst. Maybe we will understand that we need to make special appeals to young adults, and to immigrants, especially Latinos and Latinas. Or maybe we will just occupy ourselves in arguments. Because we are, at the moment, a church of more hat than cattle, and we didn’t get that way by accident.