My dear Episcopal Church

by

 

by Maryann Younger

 

 

You’ve heard the depressing statistics.

You’ve looked around on Sunday and seen it in the pews.

Heck, you may even be charged with trying to rejuvenate your church, or worse, figuring out how to shut it down with grace.

 

You’ve sat in meetings about how to become more welcoming.

You’ve brainstormed about how to reach those elusive millennials.

Or how to improve the website to become more accessible and friendly to all.

You may have even reworked your mission and guiding principles to refresh and recharge your congregations.

 

And still. Folks are missing.

 

I’ve also heard and read enough conservative thinkers – and there are many loud voices in this camp – to know that the evangelical church thinks we’ve lost our way. One even asking, ‘What does liberal Christianity even stand for but for legitimizing homosexual desire and approbation for sexual permissiveness?’

 

Um, wow.

 

Here’s what we stand for: we stand for the dignity of every person. We stand for loving each other, and especially those who aren’t like us. We stand for a loving inclusive God who is all about standing with the oppressed and the marginalized. It’s that whole Matthew 22:37-40 statement about loving God and loving each other.

 

But here’s the thing – we need to do more than stand for something.  We need to move with it, too. It is not enough to wait for folks to walk through our door and to make sure they have a good experience when they arrive. (Make no mistake, that initial experience is really important, but let’s save that discussion for another day.)

 

And we need to admit that we’ve hurt folks. Hurt them enough that they don’t want to be a part of any religion at all. Hurt them with rules and doctrine that have no basis in the teachings of Jesus Christ. In fact, they seem to be motivated more by power and control of the Church, than grace and forgiveness in the Church. And to make matters worse, the middle-aged folks (full disclosure: this is my demographic) that walked away wounded have raised children who share their contempt and distrust of the institution.

 

So, what are we to do?

 

Let me tell you a story about one small way that I’ve learned to do church differently. I am a seminarian at a Lutheran, but largely ecumenical and racially diverse, seminary. I am humbled to be one of two sacristans of that institution which basically means that I get to help the worshiping community ‘do’ church. Except, for a bunch of reasons too complex to go into here, attendance at chapel services (which is not required at this institution) is declining. So, we decided to move to them. On Tuesday evenings, we have Dinner Church in one of the public areas in the main building. (While the name Dinner Church is often associated with a Eucharist, our is not. It is simply church with dinner tossed in.) Here’s the format: the volunteer leader chooses scripture, which can be lectionary based or not; adds a song or two; and then develops a few discussion questions based on the above. That’s it. Oh, and there’s food because we need to be fed. And we’ve watched attendance in this service steadily increase.

 

Ed Setzer recently said in the Washington Post, “If mainline Protestantism has a future, it will need to engage more deeply with the past – not the past of an idealized 1950s, but one that is 2,000 years old.” So, let’s go back to proclaiming the teachings of Jesus Christ and to breaking bread with one another.

 

Is Dinner Church going to resurrect the mainline church? I don’t think it’s that simple. But in this one tiny corner, we have increased enthusiasm and have grown in our conversations with one another. And that’s a good thing.

 

What are you doing in your one tiny corner that’s working? Would you be willing to share it with me? With the church?

 

I’ve read the statistics. I’ve heard the doom and gloom about our future. I’ve recoiled at the hypocrisy of the actions of many conservative churches. But I remain undaunted.

 

I know that God is very much alive in our world. The teachings of Jesus Christ are great examples of how to live. The Holy Spirit continues to breathe life and love and transformation in amazing and grace-filled ways. And that’s a good thing.

 

So, my dear Church: let’s stop our navel gazing and turn a deaf ear to the naysayers, and move out into the world together.  You know, to love and serve the Lord.

 

 

Maryann D. Younger is an Episcopalian studying religion at a Lutheran Seminary after a career in educational leadership and a lifetime of applied sociology. The Holy Spirit has not yet revealed what direction her mid-life call with lead, but she thinks it might be in reconciling the hurt with the church. She and her husband live in an old farmhouse in Delaware with three pets of questionable heritage.

 

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Paul Woodrum
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PS: Browning said, "there will be (not are) no outcasts." At the time he said it, there were plenty of outcasts, and still are. It was his prayer and challenge for the future into which we still have a lot of living to do.

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Paul Woodrum
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Acts 2:1-3

Americans are great at selling most anything. If they can't turn fire, wind and water into commodities and market them, nobody can. The problem today is the fire has burned down to embers, the wind become a gentle breeze and the water calm. No amount of new branding is going to change the situation. But then, that's why we have the Holy Spirit if we'll only live into it.

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leslie marshall
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leslie marshall

--I'm an x-Episcopalian church goer. When I look at progressive churches, it seems like the pastors are trying to talk themselves out of a job. When all beliefs (& no beliefs) are accepted & not corrected, where's the power? I don't see it as a faith that goes much beyond one Generation. It's been defanged.

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Gregory Orloff
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Gregory Orloff

Nothing defanged or fangless about the Episcopal church I attend, leslie marshall. The building practically shakes when the congregation exclaims "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" during the Eucharist. And its constant encouragement to love God, love neighbor, love enemy and treat others the same way we want to be treated is utterly vibrant.

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

TEC hasn't been defanged. TEC's former incisors t have been removed by St. Luke, the physician; a painless procedure, I might add. 🙂

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Member

You want a church with fangs??? ????????????????????????????????

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Jay Croft
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Jay Croft

There are snake-handling churches in the Appalachian mountains. Plenty of fangs there.

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Thom Forde
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Thom Forde

I think a portion of the answer must include a consideration of martyrdom. For what would [you] be willing to lay down your life?

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Jay Croft
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Jay Croft

One good thing about the Lutherans: they don't have the phrase, "And now, as our Savior taught us, we are bold to say . . ." before the Lord's Prayer in the Eucharist.

At that moment in the service, I feel like Ed Sullivan
introducing the next act in his "really big show."

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Gregory Orloff
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Gregory Orloff

That introduction to the Lord's prayer goes back to the earliest eucharistic liturgies. The "bold" in our translation goes back to the "parrhesia" in the Greek originals, which means "boldness, frankness, openness, outspokeness, freedom of speech" -- signifying the new directness one has with God as part of the body of those baptized into Christ, by which we became sons and daughters and thus heirs, rather than slaves.

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Jay Croft
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Jay Croft

Thanks. But it still seems Ed Sullivanesque.

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