Looking ahead: The Episcopal Church in 2012

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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.

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Lionel Deimel
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The concern about the CofE is that, since women bishops and the Anglican Covenant will likely be dealt with at the same General Synod session, Rowan will suffer a loss on providing special dispensations for opponents of women bishops, a loss that will be compensated for by approving the Covenant. This, of course, would be a deal with the Devil, but it would not be unheard of.

The idea of a constitutional convention terrifies me; all sorts of mischief could be engaged in, particularly since the idea has had little serious discussion so far.

Here, however, is an idea: why should our church be led by a bishop? I would feel very much better if our highest officer was a layperson. The Church does not exist for the benefit of clergy. Moreover, experience suggests that most mischief in the Church is initiated by bishops.

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Juan Oliver
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Juan Oliver

Yes, Alissa, that IS the point. We are awash, drowning in a sea of befuddledness (sp?) over what we are and what we value. Some heresies to combat, IMO:

1. "The Church is a business"--NOT. It is free. Clergy do not get a salary. They should get a stipend if they don´t have trust funds (and are needed for so many hours a week).

2. The clergy are "helping professionals" NOT. We are ritual technologists and psychopomps. (That´s NOT a pompous psycho!)

3. "People are naturally Christian --NOT."

Blame Adam and Eve. Humans need to learn how to be Christian. We are not born that way. TEC sucks at forming new members.

4. "We don´t need intellectual seminary training." NOT.

We sure do! Intellectuals are few and far between. My God, it´s prophetic to be an intellectual in this country!

5. "Natural leaders make natural priests" NOT without training.

The Noble Savage is dead, --having been colonized.

6. "The Kingdom of God is only God´s dominion over my heart, a spiritual reality" --NOT.

It is that new world of truth telling, justice, peace and love that we ask for in the Our Father. We are not going there. It´s coming to us, --or so we say.

7. "The Eucharist is a symbolic meal." NOT. It´s supposed to be a real meal that manifests the "green shoots" of that new world.

8. "A church cannot run without meetings." NOT. It sure can --the Eucharist is a meeting!

9. "Deacons are not to be paid."

NOT. They should be. Without them we have no leaders into justice-doing as a community.

10. "Our liturgy is crystal clear." NOT.

It´s arcane, full of encoded shop-talk, and manifests a hierarchically-ordered world that we no longer believe in.

Juan Oliver

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Alissa Goudswaard
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I'm a bit late to this thread, it seems. Re: the problems w/ TEC as an institution, TEC, like all the other denominations, has become institutionalized, and institutions have problems. I don't see any way around this. I'm in the higher-education bubble, and it's here, too. My current methodology is to accept the institutions for what they are, no demonizing nor valorizing, and find ways to work with the structures and foibles (subversion from within, muahaha).

As for "understand[ing] with deeper urgency that if we don’t attract more people to the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church will wither and die," well... I think I'm with the lecturing, seminary-educated folks, despite my lack of any theology degree. A friend of mine (also a non-seminary-educated 20-something) says it better than I, and called me up short with this comment:

"I think the church has approached this problem [of losing young people] the way Americans seem to approach everything: identify the outcome you want and then make up the way you think will get you there the fastest and cheapest. Instead of saying, 'How can we attract and keep more teens?' we need to be asking, 'What are the values that we are trying to practice, as a church?' and focus on that. If a church focuses on values rather than outcomes and is successful at putting all of its values into practice, then can be content in its practice despite demographic shifts. If people continue to leave, well, either the message of Jesus isn’t as powerful as we’ve said, we’ve got the message wrong, or it doesn’t matter that they’re leaving. The reason more churches don’t operate this way is that they don’t know what they should be valuing, and if the church leadership doesn’t know that, well, I don’t really blame the young people for leaving."

And, because I just can't resist quoting Madeleine L'Engle whenever possible: "The church is not immune from the bigger-is-better heresy. One woman told of going to a meeting where only a handful of people turned out, and these faithful few were scolded by the visiting preacher for the sparseness of the congregation. And she said indignantly, 'Our Lord said feed my sheep, not count them!' I often feel that I'm being counted, rather than fed, and so I am hungry.”

True, but not to the point? Hm... perhaps. But as one who would like TEC to extend far into the future, I long for emphasis on values and feeding rather than marketing. If someone is really being fed at church, won't the publicity come organically? Whereas a really striking, well-done marketing campaign can glitter and glisten when there's really no there there. Not that I'm against good marketing and sleek publications--quite the opposite, really--I just wonder about ordering priorities.

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Jim Naughton
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Jim Naughton

I think we need some help understanding which of the problems that people have identified with General Convention are specific to General Convention--and therefore possible easy to fix--and which are part and parcel of any legislative process. This is a job that requires some familiarity with other legislatures.

I am not sure what other denominations you are talking about, but my colleagues in the Lutheran and Methodist churches don't think they have ideal polities, either. So maybe we could all use a remake.

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FrSimmons
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FrSimmons

Sorry, That's

David Simmons

And I guess, the question is - is the Episcopal Church more like an ex-Eastern Bloc country or another denomination? (BTW, you just gave the ACNA people a lovely metaphor) 😉

If more like another denomination, perhaps we would do better to study and learn from other models already used by other churches.

Governance of a denomination is not rocket science. We are treating a DC-10 as if it were a space shuttle.

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