Here is the Facebook page of the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy, where my business partner and I had the pleasure of giving a communications workshop on Saturday. You’ll notice that the cover photo features Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and another woman giving Holy Communion. (PS: why not “like” it while you are in the neighborhood.)
In Quincy, where women were not allowed to be ordained until the breakaway faction relinquished its control of the diocese and set up its own shop, this image is a powerful one. It communicates that the diocese is under new leadership, and that this new leadership is open to the gifts of women (and, by extension, other previously marginalized people) in the way that the previous leadership was not.
The question I hope we can chew on this morning is how effectively images that highlight the ways in which the Episcopal Church is different from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and some of the more conservative evangelical Protestant churches, would communicate in dioceses that don’t have Quincy’s distinctive history.
On one hand, it is possible that a critical mass of people know all about the fact that we have ordained women for more than 30 years, that our Presiding Bishop (who was featured on The Simpsons, after all) (correction: turns out it was American Dad) is a woman, that we are working toward the full inclusions of LGBT people in the life on the church and that unlike many more conservative churches our polity is fairly democratic. On the other hand, it may be equally possible that this knowledge, while readily available, has not penetrated the popular imagination as deeply as we might think it has, and that it remains an effective way to differentiate ourselves from more theologically conservative churches in the minds of a certain segment of folks who might find us interesting.
Some people argue that it is our theological liberalism that is fueling our decline. But it can also be argued it is our failure to make it clear that we do not practice the kind of Christianity that much of the American population finds repressive, anti-intellectual and bigoted that is at the root of our problem. (It is also possible that we have differentiated ourselves successfully, but still strike some people as a novelty act, and that a lack of gravitity is our problem, but that is a different converation.)
At any rate, the question on my mind is whether the leading role played by women in our church, our progress toward full inclusion and the democratic polity that made these things possible are an effective calling card–as they are in Quincy–or whether these are so widely known that they seem yesterday’s news.