The Episcopal Church enters the desert time

The former presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Frank Griswold believes that our church may be entering the desert time.

Frank Griswold: Maybe this is the desert time
For the Episcopal Church and mainline Protestantism, this may be a wilderness period, a time of being shaped, formed and made ready to enter the promised land, says a former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church and the Protestant mainline in America today may be going through a normal “paschal pattern” -- a dying and a rising -- that all churches go through, said Bishop Frank T. Griswold. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

“There’s an arrogance and a self-confidence that is shattered by things falling apart,” said Griswold, former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. But beneath the church’s many challenges is an invitation to deeper wisdom, a hidden grace that leads to new insight, wisdom and resurrection.

“To use an image from the Old Testament, maybe this is the desert time,” Griswold said. “The desert was a period of purification and self-knowledge in order that they were prepared to enter the promised land.”

“If we are in fact the body of Christ, limbs of Christ’s risen body, we’re OK,” he said.

Comments (8)

The former PB says some wise things in this interview, but as for this "desert time" business, I think both he and Bishop Sauls--who recently said that we should not be "anxious" about the fact that in a few decades we might not have enough Episcopalians to fill a football stadium--are theologizing our decline.

The desert metaphor is apt and in Scripture it is tied to the anxiety of those who would go back to the safety of bondage in Egypt. Avoiding anxiety does not mean that we avoid boldness and urgency. Just that we are thoughtful and principled in the decisions we make. There is some overlap with the Ignatian insight of not turning back from our resolves in the midst of desolation.

Nice try Frank -- but let's just get to work and stop the excuses.

Reminds me of Watership Down:
The company copes with many dangers and meets a rabbit called Cowslip, who invites the group back to be members of his warren. Here, the company encounter an apparently prosperous rabbit colony with ample food and protection from predators by a human whose farm is near their warren. However, Fiver is profoundly suspicious, especially when he observes that these rabbits do not tell the customary tales of El-ahrairah but instead recite fatalistic poetry. When Fiver attempts to leave, Bigwig learns firsthand the deadly secret of the warren: the whole area is a human-designed rabbit farm with numerous snares placed to harvest them. After helping Bigwig escape from a snare, Fiver exposes his fellows to the warren's horrific secret, effectively convincing them to flee this honey trap of a colony immediately. (from Wiki)

I'm less inclined to see the metaphor as problematic, as long as we take the important part from it. If we are to compare TEC to the Hebrew people wandering in the desert, then the focus is on listening for God in the wilderness and trusting in the Spirit, right? Otherwise, we are just creating a situation in which we worship golden calves and complain that we aren't in Egypt anymore. That part seems to ring true enough...

I do not necessarily object to a metaphorical description of our problems, but if we are waiting for the bread to fall from the sky or a pillar of fire to lead us in the darkness, then I fear that we may never leave the desert. Coming from Arizona, I can testify that the desert is a dangerous place and that wandering there is a bad idea. People can and do die there all the time. We need to be getting our maps in order, making sure we have at least some survival rations and water and get going on charting a course out. We cannot wait for the "big guy in the sky" to swoop in to our rescue.

20+ years ago, I considered attending a school whose motto was "We Flourish In Order to Perish" (referring to Jesus's analogy "unless a seed fall in the ground and die...")

While I eventually chose another school (seminary), I was deeply moved by that sentiment. Ever since then, the thought of any given human institution's death hasn't bothered me. [To the extent The Church is a divine institution, then of course its fate is 1) entirely safe and better yet 2) entirely OUT of our hands!]

JC Fisher

Bishop Lee of Chicago has noted for several years in keynote sermons at diocesan events sentiments such as "The good news is that God doesn't need the Episcopal Church . . . but we have such a need of God." And: "You know, we sometimes forget that as Christians, death isn't the worst thing that can happen to us."

I'm also reminded of the words of a rector who spoke to my Divinity School cohort of her (successful) efforts to turn around a "failing" parish: "We were so close to death, we could smell resurrection."

Waiting for the pillars of fire and cloud doesn't strike me as a problem, so long as we follow them when we see them.

This is also certainly not the first desert moment even in American Anglicanism; I suspect we faced a far more serious threat after the American Revolution . . . how were we to articulate a raison d'etre, having "lost" our status as a national church? I believe that we gained far more freedom to be God's people from that dissociation than we suffered from the lack of resources we had previously depended on. Yet, among congregationalists and Presbyterians, a patient via media reaching towards both Catholic and Protestant imaginations (and -- sometimes stubbornly -- refusing to release one to favor the other) still held a place for its ability to invite some American Christians into a deeper awareness of their relationship to God and the world around them.

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