We thought this exchange in the comments on an earlier item that made reference to declining participation in Episcopal Churches was worth highlighting.
Yes, there are fewer of us than there used to be. If TEC is to survive and grow, some fundamental changes will have to take place. Change is more than debating Gregorian chant vs. Taize, or 7 weeks of Advent vs. 4. As Walter Russell Mead noted in “Get Rid of the Holy Crap,” many of us are sitting in churches we cannot afford to maintain and listening to full-time priests we struggle to pay. In order to provide the props and actors for the traditional services, we call on a precious few to fill the roster of lay ministries. I don’t see as many people leaving the church because of doctrinal differences as from sheer fatigue.
What if we all didn’t have to support a full-time priest? What if we returned to a 19th century model of Eucharist once a month, with Morning Prayer on other Sundays? What if we decided that Lay Readers can, once again, lead Morning Prayer? What if we really expected vestries to administer parish affairs (with diocesan assistance and oversight) rather than rubber-stamping the decisions made by a priest who may have no experience of management?
What if we didn’t have an Altar Guild to change the colors, scrub the wine stains out, drape the crosses, and set up the foot-washing stations? As much as I love the effect of what we do, I don’t think Jesus needed embroidered linens and elaborate paraments.
What if we worked harder to preserve small parishes and to help them grow, rather than committing millions to expensive real estate in New York City, to a lengthy General Convention, to large diocesan staffs, and to travel expenses so bishops can, yet again, apologize to the ABC for extending basic human rights to out LGBT sisters and brothers?
What if we returned to the ancient concept of locally trained priests, whose education is focused on pastoral care and preaching, not the intricacies of medieval theology and Greek? What if we admitted that academicians don’t always make good pastors?
What if we concentrated a little less on our beautiful rituals and more on feeding hungry people? What is we finally listened to the laity that we have been educating all these years through EFM, Via Media, and Bible study?
Mary Anne Chesarek
Posted by Mary Anne Chesarek | January 2, 2012 12:19 AM
Interesting thoughts, Mary Anne.
But from my perspective, you have it backwards. Liturgy isn’t that which gets in the way of the real work of the church. Instead, liturgy is what feeds and drives it. Good liturgy–and all of its preparations which is a heck of a lot more than just “a/the priest”–is what connects us to the experience and reality of God in our midst. Our witness to the world is just that: a *witness* to the reality and the identity of the one whom we meet (and eat) in our Common Prayer.
Strong, vibrant liturgy has got to be central to what we do. And the laity have to be invested in how and why we do it. (Speaking as a layman myself…)
Posted by Derek Olsen | January 2, 2012 1:28 PM
I agree with Derek that we cannot do without the Eucharist. But much else is up for grabs.