Why we are shrinking

Mark D. W. Edington writing for Episcopal Life Online:

Step outside the church into the world they deal with every day and it's easy to see why. They confront the challenging of living and working in a world where organizations that succeed in responding to change are being ruthlessly flattened, collapsing old hierarchies in favor of structures more supple and responsive to the needs of the people they serve.

And – especially among the generation now rising – their skill at using information technologies to assess alternatives, no matter what the need, makes them significantly less devoted to, and more skeptical of, the old virtue of brand loyalty – Ford, Ivory, Sunoco or Episcopal.

Their purpose in finding a church is, in short, very different from what ours appears to be in being a church. We want to work from the basis of our faith to articulate faith-informed positions on issues of the day. But they are looking primarily for a way into relationship with God and God's people; to be in a community of faith that looks something like the communities that they know from the other spheres of their lives.

Those other communities have characteristics that make our churches seem alien, even forbidding. First, most folks outside the church are quite accustomed to living and working in communities where people hold a great diversity of views on social and political issues. They live in neighborhoods and communities, they work in offices and classrooms and laboratories where they have become adept at making relationships with people with ideas and commitments different from – even sometimes in conflict with – their own. And they are not threatened by this.

Comments (6)

Their purpose in finding a church is, in short, very different from what ours appears to be in being a church. We want to work from the basis of our faith to articulate faith-informed positions on issues of the day. But they are looking primarily for a way into relationship with God and God's people

And yet I find myself agreeing with the quote Kendall Harmon had this morning from Dallas Willard: The fundamental negative reality among Christian believers now is their failure to be constantly learning how to live their lives in The Kingdom Among Us. And it is an accepted reality. The division of Christians into those from whom it is a matter of whole-life devotion to God and those who maintain a consumer, or client, relationship to the church has now been an accepted reality for over fifteen hundred years.

You *mean* people are looking for a God connection with/through other authentic people who believe that is what God wants from them?

A God who has called them/us to be genuine, flawed, confident, creative vulnerable, as they/we ¨confront¨ the challenges of living and working in everyday REALITY?

You mean, like, for instance, becoming regularsized human beings?

Wow, what a concept! No more playing grandiose selfrighteous blowhard and know-it-all PRETENDER.

Being starkly responsible/accountable and vulnerable in front of God and everyone else is very helpful to my peace of mind and serenity. Being more ¨supple and responsive¨ doesn´t seem threatening, it feels emotionally/spiritually more secure to me.

Being willing to go face-to-face with ANYONE and say ¨yes¨ and ¨no¨ and expose myself to ¨maybe¨ or ¨I don´t know¨ (and later changing my mind completely) is being a REAL part of life as well as a seeker of a Community of Faith.

Trust in God (no matter the outcome) and walking through the consequences of our/my choices is helpful when building ¨relationships¨ and sanity too!

You mean God expects us/me ¨to be¨ the authentic and responsible people that God has made us/me to be regardless of our ¨diversity of views on social and political issues¨?

Excellent. I´m in!

The Episcopal Church promotes Faithful Living and ¨being¨ responsible in the face of each persons everyday REALITY...besides, The Episcopal Church WELCOMES everyone...it´s true (mostly).

Supple and responsive The Episcopal Church is not. Over 30 years and we still can't decide whether gay people are one-half or three-quarters members. Where the state says they can have marriage equity, the church says its clergy may not participate, nor its laity ordained.

Small congregations are left twisting in the wind without adequate leadership or guidance.

Bishops and priests tear out whole chunks and nothing happens until only lawsuits are left.

Few parishes really use the internet. When they do get up a website it remains unchanged. Mission statements sound pious and mean nothing. Maintenance and conflict avoidance are the real agenda.

Great liturgy is dumped for hip hop and cursillo songbooks.

One by one college, military and prison chaplaincies are eliminated.

No wonder we're shivering as the iceman approaches.

Supple and responsive The Episcopal Church is not. Over 30 years and we still can't decide whether gay people are one-half or three-quarters members. Where the state says they can have marriage equity, the church says its clergy may not participate, nor its laity ordained.

Small congregations are left twisting in the wind without adequate leadership or guidance.

Bishops and priests tear out whole chunks and nothing happens until only lawsuits are left.

Few parishes really use the internet. When they do get up a website it remains unchanged. Mission statements sound pious and mean nothing. Maintenance and conflict avoidance are the real agenda.

Great liturgy is dumped for hip hop and cursillo songbooks.

One by one college, military and prison chaplaincies are eliminated.

No wonder we're shivering as the iceman approaches.

I see the point Willard makes about living the Kingdom, but maybe it's important to distinguish that from "articulating faith-informed positions on the issues of the day," which too often means political statements not much different from those of any lobbying group.

And surely it can't be wrong to seek relationships first, and "positions" later...
Patrick Coleman

Those other communities have characteristics that make our churches seem alien, even forbidding. First, most folks outside the church are quite accustomed to living and working in communities where people hold a great diversity of views on social and political issues.

I am not sure that I fully agree with this comment. I certainly have work colleagues and clients with whom I radically disagree about politics, religion, and/or the issues of the day. But these do not inform our relationships in that environment; rather we simply do not discuss those things. What we have seen over the last decade is a growing polarization in the United States where a right-or-wrong, all-or-nothing distinction is the only thing that we seem to think is legitimate.

I would hope that the church would engender a culture where we could discuss our differences instead of simply agreeing to disagree or simply not talking about what we think. I tend to believe that many in our country are not interested in the kind of environment offered in the Episcopal Church (and others) is because we do focus on bringing together different points of view, and challenging people to interact in a meaningful way with each other. This is of course not the case everywhere, but I would hope that we can be a beacon for how people *should* interact, rather than how they currently *do* interact in our culture.

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