Reaching out to spiritual refugees

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Tom Moran, the editorial page editor of the Newark Star-Ledger, is a cradle Roman Catholic who now refers to himself as a spiritual refugee. In a moving column in yesterday’s Newark Star-Ledger, he talks about how the Catholic hierarchy’s teachings on divorce and homosexuality drove him out of the church.


Moran’s personal story is a familiar one. As he points out, one in three American adults was raised a Catholic, but only one in four call themselves Catholic today. I am one of the many former Catholics who became an Episcopalian. If I knew Tom Moran personally, I’d invite him to my church. We have a lot in common. I am assuming from his name that he’s at least half Irish, and he comes from a large family. I think that, like me, he might find much of what he loved and less of what he objected to about the Catholic Church within the Episcopal Church.

Maybe not, but it would be worth a try.

I have wondered why the Episcopal Church, which, if I am not mistaken, is a church made up primarily of adult converts, has never formally reached out to “spiritual refugees” like Moran. What keeps us from saying: Hey, if you consider yourself a Christian, but find much of Christianity misogynistic or homophobic, if you think it is pre-modern in it understanding of creation, you might want to pay us a visit or two and try us on for size. We aren’t perfect, and we offer fewer certainties that more conservative brands of Christianity, but you may consider that a plus.

This isn’t something we can expect Episcopal HQ to do for us. The money isn’t there, and one suspects that it would be difficult to get the necessary agreements on the nature of the message that we might extend. But there isn’t anything stopping individuals, parishes, dioceses and groups of dioceses from saying to the Tom Morans of the world that our doors are open to them and they might like what we find inside. Yet we don’t do it. At least not with any real energy.

Why not? How do we get over our natural reticence about evangelism, pull some money together and make it broadly obvious that people who found other churches harsh and punitive may find our approach to the Christian faith more, um, Christian? We should be in the business of taking in spiritual refugees. But I am not sure those refugees even know we are here.

In workshops on using the means of mass communications for the ends of evangelism, my business partner, Rebecca Wilson, and I sometimes remind people that if you are in a room of 100 randomly generated Americans, you are probably the only Episcopalian in the group. If every Episcopalian who found themselves in that situation took one person out of that room with them, we’d double the size of the church.

What’s the best way to make a deep connection with that one person? To couch what the church has to say in unobjectionable bromides designed to prevail in a plebiscite? Or to speak in a personal way about what is distinctive about the church, what you love best about your church, and why you are an Episcopalian rather than a member of some other denomination?

We Episcopalians have a tendency to illuminate the interior of bushel baskets. This is decorous. It is polite. But it is not what God calls us to do.

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W. R. Allen
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W. R. Allen

Late post on an old thread (and first post ever on this site), but this kind of sums up what drew me to the EC:

"Showing love of Christ for all; led by Scripture, Tradition, and Reason."

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David O'Rourke
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David O'Rourke

Turning aside from debates about who does a better job at liturgy and music, to the NCR article which indicated that the leading reason people are leaving the RCC for protestant churches, that their spiritual needs were not being met, here is an interesting approach mentioned in the USA Today article linked to in the posting on the growth of the Unitarians.

"First Unitarian Church of Denver, where Sunday attendance has increased by 10% a year for the past three years, uses an approach called "passive evangelism" to reach newcomers.

That means helping people with their spiritual journey, not on persuading them to become Unitarians, said Kirk Loadman-Copeland, the church's senior minister.

"People come and they are compelled by what they experience, so they come back," he said."

So replace Unitarian with Episcopal, and reach to those former Catholics who are thirsty on a one to one basis.

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Adam Wood
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@Bill (and others)

The problem here, of course, is... what exactly are we talking about, and what has our experience been?

I grew up in an RC parish with decent-to-excellent contemporary liturgy, in a Diocese that hosted regular liturgical arts workshops and conventions. The RCIA (which has a strong liturgical component) was fully implemented. Liturgy of the Hours was a regular occurrence.

So- yeah - when I talk about "the best of contemporary RC practice," I'm talking about an experience that isn't particularly widespread.

But the "free market" approach to hymnal publishing, along with (it seems to me) a widespread culture of experimentation has allowed for a high degree of liturgical development and variety in American Catholic culture. Even now, as the tides are shifting towards a more Roman and Traditional praxis, it is independent publishers and enthusiastic workshops that are leading the "New Liturgical Movement."

Development in the Episcopal Church, from what I have been able to tell, has mostly been non-existent or has followed RC trends while lagging behind them (Wonder, Love, and Praise is simply a folk Catholic hymnal published 15 years too late). Rare indeed is a parish like Gregory of Nyssa, that has managed to develop its own liturgical practice in a way that is contemporary, relevant, and respectful of tradition.

All that to say- I am in no way advocating the abandonment of traditional Anglican/Episcopalian music. The High-Church musical culture, the English choral tradition, and the sturdiness of Protestant hymn singing is much to be commended and preserved.

But the "liturgical renewal" of the last 40 years was built largely on principles that seem more Episcopalian than Catholic: empowerment of the laity, dialogue with the modern world, equality of genders, re-engagement with early-church tradition, acceptance of sexual and ethnic minorities. In fact, many of the Roman Catholics who are leaving (especially the ones who are coming into the Episcopal Church) were brought up with liturgy that expressed these values, and those values are what eventually bring them into the Episcopal Church.

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Adam Wood
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@Bill (and others)

The problem here, of course, is... what exactly are we talking about, and what has our experience been?

I grew up in an RC parish with decent-to-excellent contemporary liturgy, in a Diocese that hosted regular liturgical arts workshops and conventions. The RCIA (which has a strong liturgical component) was fully implemented. Liturgy of the Hours was a regular occurrence.

So- yeah - when I talk about "the best of contemporary RC practice," I'm talking about an experience that isn't particularly widespread.

But the "free market" approach to hymnal publishing, along with (it seems to me) a widespread culture of experimentation has allowed for a high degree of liturgical development and variety in American Catholic culture. Even now, as the tides are shifting towards a more Roman and Traditional praxis, it is independent publishers and enthusiastic workshops that are leading the "New Liturgical Movement."

Development in the Episcopal Church, from what I have been able to tell, has mostly been non-existent or has followed RC trends while lagging behind them (Wonder, Love, and Praise is simply a folk Catholic hymnal published 15 years too late). Rare indeed is a parish like Gregory of Nyssa, that has managed to develop its own liturgical practice in a way that is contemporary, relevant, and respectful of tradition.

All that to say- I am in no way advocating the abandonment of traditional Anglican/Episcopalian music. The High-Church musical culture, the English choral tradition, and the sturdiness of Protestant hymn singing is much to be commended and preserved.

But the "liturgical renewal" of the last 40 years was built largely on principles that seem more Episcopalian than Catholic: empowerment of the laity, dialogue with the modern world, equality of genders, re-engagement with early-church tradition, acceptance of sexual and ethnic minorities. In fact, many of the Roman Catholics who are leaving (especially the ones who are coming into the Episcopal Church) were brought up with liturgy that expressed these values, and those values are what eventually bring them into the Episcopal Church.

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tgflux
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tgflux

the sense in the departing Roman Catholic that he choosing to leave because the new destination is where he wants to go based on his own desires, and NOT based on The Truth. The leaver is told that he is willfully stepping off the true path for one in error.

Isn't the Ultimate Hammer-Drop of that particular Truth-claim "...and you'll find out when you're DAMNED for all eternity!"

TEC can't compete on those terms: Heaven if you're with us, Hell if you're not.

All we can offer (that the RCC can't) is "Can you live w/ yourself Right Now?"

JC Fisher

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