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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Thomas Nixon
Guest
Thomas Nixon

I would add that all ordained persons should remember that they never stop being deacon, I.e. look for Christ in all others,being ready to help and serve those in need.

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Cynthia Katsarelis
Member

What a great thread! Many thanks to Ms. Younger and Mr. Spivey.

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Michael Kennedy
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Michael Kennedy

Here here! I completly concur with what you are saying. The Episcopal Church needs to get out into the community and we must never waiver on being the church that welcomes everyone. I also think having a renewed diaconate to engage with the world will greatly benefit us.

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

Michael: I couldn't agree more. Long before bishops and priests, there were DEACONS carrying the Good News.

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

Thank you, Ms. Younger, for raising this issue; it seems we never get beyond the question. I'm glad you reminded me

Perhaps I'm naive, but I'm not sure a smaller TEC is necessarily a bad thing. Certainly, if people are departing our parishes because they have been hurt and wounded by what they hear in the pulpit, that is a cause for serious concern. But I would want to understand the nature of their injury: Do the parishioner ears smart because their world view does not include women, communities of color or LGBT in positions of leadership? Or--- are the parishioners in question reeling from assaults to their dignity and self-respect? The former group may be leaving TEC in droves, but that doesn't concern me. Since the Windsor Report kerfuffle years ago, I've accepted the fact that their will be no reconciliation between the evangelicals and the progressives because the evangelicals insist on cherry-picked "Scriptural conformity".

I personally welcome their departure ONLY because they continue to insist that we bow to their doctrine; smaller, less contentious and truly welcoming parishes may be just the kick start TEC needs in the 21st century.

I also fantasize about the additional assets TEC would now have access to; assets that would be devoted to messaging a single voice: "The Episcopal Church (unequivocally) Welcomes You".

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Scott Larson
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Scott Larson

Maryann, thank you! Your experience at a Lutheran seminary is a hint at what we Mainliners need: to rebuild a collective denomination from the ground up--in the style of the United Church of Canada or the Churches of North and South India--and to start work now, before it's too late. Our Mainline denominations are, for the most part, rather homogenous vestiges of faithful generations of 16th through 19th century immigrants. You're correct in suggesting that we need freshness in worship expression; I'm adding that we should go farther: start from the ground up with a new, fresh statement based on the 39 Articles and Augsburg Confession. Follow it up with a catechism, a united name, a prayer book, etc. Yes, there are legalities and it will take decades to sort out. This is exactly why we need to start now, and put in the time to do it right.

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