Why should there be an Episcopal Church?

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Another comment from a previous post piqued our interest: the writer asks why there should be an Episcopal Church, what defines us, and what would be missing if we were gone?


Mark Preece wrote:

A question that needs to be asked at some point along the way is, “why should there be an Episcopal Church at all? What does it bring to the table?”

For at least part of its history, TEC has been defined by its commitment to liturgy and liturgical reform. I’m not suggesting this has to continue, but if it’s really all about figuring out what works (perhaps on a local level) and doing that, then what makes us different from any other mainline

denomination?

This isn’t a rhetorical argument, it’s an honest question. Obviously, I have some sort of answer to this question in my own heart, or else I wouldn’t still be an Episcopalian. But it’s hard to say exactly what that answer is. Some sort of “sensibility,” I suppose.

At the last church I served as rector, a suburban parish with a ministry to families, I’d say at least half our new members at some point asked me, “so what’s the Episcopal Church?” They hadn’t come into our doors because they were Episcopalians looking for a church, but because they were mainline protestants or former Roman Catholics, and our church looked inviting and was convenient. If they moved to a new town, they might look at the Episcopal church first because they had a good experience with us, but if they didn’t like it they’d try the Lutherans or the Methodists or somebody convenient and inviting. I really wonder whether many denominations need to survive in the long term.

Now, many of us would say we’re Episcopalians because of its sacramental teaching (but I grew up in a church where one Communion a month was the national norm), or its openness to intellectual inquiry (but are we really so different from others in this nowadays?), or some other facet of the church’s current self identification that appeals to us. When I was growing up, the most honest (if brutal) truth might have been that we served the ruling/wealthy class in town, or were the “Republican Party at prayer.” We’ve made the transition from there to where we are now following the common thread of a BCP (not without struggle and loss, of course). If not the BCP, though, what? And, before we can answer that, why?

So what makes us different? What is the place and role of the Episcopal Church in this wider world we call The Church?

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Josh Magda
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Josh Magda

Chris,

Not at all, that wasn't what I was implying. I was relaying the experience a friend of mine has had with an Anglican tradition that is more conservative than TEC. I think we are all different and need different things, and I think everyone has a right to be happy and experience God in a way that is meaningful for them.

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Chris Arnold
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Chris Arnold

Josh Magda wrote, "As an aside, I have a conservative evangelical friend who is very happy in one of the new continuing Anglican churches, in a very dynamic parish. Just something to consider."

The Episcopal Church: love it or leave it?

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tgflux
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tgflux

given (a) the many people I know who have...

I'm sure we all wish that, like a math problem, we could just could count up the largest number, and that would be that.

But beyond the fact that some COME for the SAME reasons that others LEAVE, we ultimately inherit a Tradition where all but a few fled the cross "when the going got tough" (and the leaders of the Faith were those that DID flee!). In other words, it's not a numbers game. [To, I suppose, question the premise of this thread. MY Episcopal Church will last as long as I do...but I hope "God gives the growth" to my poor efforts at gardening! ;-/]

JC Fisher

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C. Wingate
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C. Wingate

I'm not going to brag about inclusion, given (a) the many people I know who have fled to other churches because ECUSA has rejected various elements of its old theology, and (b) people I know who did not stay in our parish because they felt uncomfortable due to their relative poverty.

Anyway, it seems to me that the biggest reason for there to be an Episcopal Church is the same reason why I am still an Episcopalian. It would seem to me that the question is, "what else are you going to do?" If you cannot come up with a justification for continuing the church, then what do you propose to do instead? Merge it with another church organization? Dissolve it?

As far as which church I belong to, the most important determining factor for me is my history of being confirmed in this one. Church membership is not merely a matter of intellectual alignment, with my allegiance changing according to the winds of my opinion: it is a sacramental bond. Going from church to church is of deeper import than choosing between Burger King and Pizza Hut. Likewise, the church is more than an association of the like-minded, and even more than an instrument of evangelization or any other Christian mission. Paul lays out its ontology: it is both body and bride of Christ, and exists as such no matter how badly it does what it is supposed to do.

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E B
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E B

This perhaps touches on C Wingate's comments, but much of what I value about the church is the fact that we are inclusive. Truly inclusive, which means that persons of all perspectives are welcome. The beauty of TEC is that it provides a framework and support system in which each person can work out her or his own faith.

I for one couldn't care less if someone is traditionalist, wears a funny hat, has purple skin or anything else of the sort. I am just happy for that they are seeking to grow in faith.

Eric Bonetti

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Josh Magda
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Josh Magda

Hi C. Wingate

My experience has not been that TEC excludes traditional voices. However, what may be troubling you is that traditionalism alone does not have free reign to rule the roost as in many other American churches. I say this having been in some churches that did scoff at traditional voices, such as the Unitarians. Women can still be priests/bishops/primates, gay people are still a part of our life, the Biblical call to social justice is still articulated, and methods beyond a unidimensional approach to Scripture are still taught.

I disagree with each of your points but don't know if this is the thread to argue... did you list your response to why should there be a TEC?

As an aside, I have a conservative evangelical friend who is very happy in one of the new continuing Anglican churches, in a very dynamic parish. Just something to consider.

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Josh Magda
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Josh Magda

Hi C. Wingate

My experience has not been that TEC excludes traditional voices. However, what may be troubling you is that traditionalism alone does not have free reign to rule the roost as in many other American churches. I say this having been in some churches that did scoff at traditional voices, such as the Unitarians. Women can still be priests/bishops/primates, gay people are still a part of our life, the Biblical call to social justice is still articulated, and methods beyond a unidimensional approach to Scripture are still taught.

I disagree with each of your points but don't know if this is the thread to argue... did you list your response to why should there be a TEC?

As an aside, I have a conservative evangelical friend who is very happy in one of the new continuing Anglican churches, in a very dynamic parish. Just something to consider.

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C. Wingate
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C. Wingate

Josh, on your points:

1. The whole CWOB push shows that way too many clerics do not take a deeply sacramental approach to the liturgy, but consider the risk of offending outsiders to outrank that.

2. If we are growing in commonality of faith, it is because of the determined effort to drive away traditionalists. And even then there are so many clerics dabbling in unitarian and other non-trinitarian theologies that talk of common theology is questionable at best.

3. You call it openness; I call it failing to stand for anything religious.

4. There is no such unwavering commitment. Indeed, the whole "we have to chuck all our musical traditions in order to appeal to young people" shows exactly the opposite.

5. I am not a prophet, and I object to my church picking up the mantle of upper middle class liberal moralism and claiming it to be prophetic.

6. Dabbling. Just dabbling.

This isn't a faith; it's just the taste of our social surroundings.

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Bill Ghrist
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Bill Ghrist

I guess I would sum up my feelings on this by saying that the Episcopal Church (or rather Anglicanism in general) is the only Protestant denomination that does not throw out the baby with the Reformation bath water. We retain a sacramental consciousness and openness to contemplative spirituality while allowing intellectual honesty and avoiding the obsession with power and control that too often characterizes the Roman Church.

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Chris Arnold
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Chris Arnold

The more challenging part of the initial question is "what would be missing if we were gone?" Of course, things would be missing, but if every Episcopal church were to shutter their doors today, I think people would drift quite comfortably into other homes: some to Lutheran (the new ELCA prayerbook is fantastic, I think), some to Unitarian Universalist (one wag suggested that certain TEC parishes are "high church Unitarians"), some to Rome, some to Orthodoxy, and some to non-denominational emergent church environments.

I want to make clear that I do believe that Episcopalian/Anglican Christianity has distinctive and valuable characteristics, but that not a single one of them is something that humanity can't live without. That said, I'd like to preserve them, because I love them.

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John D. Andrews
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John D. Andrews

I like the comments I have read above. But, they do not describe all Episcopal parishes. I would say it is descriptive of the good ones. However, the not so good ones are often judgmental, rigid, authoritarian, maintain the status quo, see mission being the responsibility of the national church, not parishes. I believe the liturgy is good, and should remain (changes to it are fine), but it should be seen for what it is--an opportunity to be strengthened so one can go out and be the body of Christ for others. Welcoming is good, but going out and serving the God in others is even better. If Episcopal parishes do not do that, they are not needed.

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Peter Pearson
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Peter Pearson

I LOVE this conversation. What a great idea and why aren't we having this in every parish and institution that we run? For myself, I have always been drawn to the courageously progressive views of the Episcopal Church and to the bottom line which states that if we can pray together, we can agree to live together. What a concept!

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Jonathan Grieser
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This is the important question, the one we should be asking nationally, and locally, for each parish. To answer helps clarify our mission--as parishes and as a denomination.

I'm bemused by the irony that before I became Episcopalian, I asked the same question of the tradition in which I was raised, the Mennonite Church. More of my reflections on the question here: http://gracerector.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/why-should-there-be-an-episcopal-church/

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Margaret Ellsworth
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After spending five years in Lutheran communities, I found my way back to my childhood church, and these are the things that called me back:

-The Prayer Book's language. I don't hold it to be sacrosanct--like many great books of poetry, it inspires me to write/speak new words--but its rhythm stays in my bones like nothing else.

-The commitment to the via media and the three-legged stool. Most progressive mainline denominations these days make space for paradox, both/and thinking, reasoning and questioning. But Anglicanism has tried to walk a middle way throughout its history, and that I find unique.

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Maria L. Evans
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For me, it's two things:

1) Its deeply sacramental theology allows me to see the world as a place teeming with sacramental blessings rather than a place of scarcity; and

2) Its adherence to the Book of Common Prayer and the three legged stool of "scripture, tradition, and reason" remind me constantly that salvation is not about me and a personal relationship with Jesus, it's about bringing the entire world along for the ride.

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GrandmèreMimi
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All of the above for me. And the comments here have given me a greater appreciation for the Episcopal Church, because, all too often, I tend to take many of the gifts of the church for granted. Still, in the end, I'd be with Ann Fontaine: the Episcopal Church suits me. It's where I feel comfortable gathering in community to worship God.

June Butler

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tgflux
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tgflux

I don't think TEC is essential.

I DO believe in "The Quad" (Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral).

For the time being, TEC seems (to me!) to doing the best at upholding those Quad principles.

I believe "Quad Christianity" ought continue to flow out of the Great Commission "while the Lord tarry".

JC Fisher

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revsusan
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revsusan

"So what makes us different? What is the place and role of the Episcopal Church in this wider world we call The Church?"

Short answer: We are a particular (some would say peculiar) people of God who have the DNA of comprehensiveness coursing through our veins. Our "Mother Church" managed to emerge from the crucible of the reformation in England with the unique ability to hold being both protestant and catholic in tension -- and then the democratization of that Anglican ethos following the American Revolution introduced both the gift and challenge of the tension between the ministry of clergy and laity for the American Episcopal Church.

At our best I believe we are uniquely (please do not read "exclusively") gifted by our history to model unity rather than uniformity as a way of being church in the world -- and in our increasingly multi-cultural, inter-faith, global context we have the capacity offer that model as an alternative to the divisivenes of polarization and exceptionalism that is too often the face of "the Church in the world."

(OK ... maybe NOT so short! 🙂

The Reverend Canon Susan Russell

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Paul Martin
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Paul Martin

I'll add one item I don't see mentioned above: our commitment to a high standard of biblical scholarship and a theologically educated clergy. Perhaps we have lived with this so long that we take it for granted.

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Brian McMichael
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Brian McMichael

And, I would add to the above comments (because it is important to me and why I came on-board), I value the consistent liberation (via the BCP) from the the burden and distraction that the majority of prayer and liturgy are not produced and delievered via extemporaneous, pious expositon and oratory. There is great benefit to participating in and reflecting on solid, worked-out, and sincere worship that is largely relieved of ego and artifice.

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bsnyder
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bsnyder

In our Common Prayer, an equal emphasis on Mass and Office - on Sacrament and Praise of God, that is.

Thus, daily prayer is emphasized, via the Office.

A "basic Christianity" that doesn't depend in its doctrine on the personality and/or quirks of a founder and has no "special doctrine" peculiar to itself (or any confession, as mentioned above).

Prayer itself as the basis for unity.

I suppose we could still point to our being a "bridge" between Protestant and Catholic. We're still certainly a compromise that permits various expressions of faith in worship - and that demonstrates that this can be done.

Our worldwide leader is "First Among Equals." We do have a leader - whom we invest with spiritual leadership - but not a Pope.

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Ann Fontaine
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Ann Fontaine

Because it is my tribe - the only expression where I feel "home" even when we do weird things. Getting beyond it's all about me - because it is place where questions are welcomed and not given answers, offers the real presence of Christ in Eucharist, ordains women, takes seriously Christ's words in John 16:12. And actively seeks to learn those things.

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Josh Magda
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Josh Magda

At the risk of seeming self-centered, I will repost here for a final time some of the reasons why I think there should be an Episcopal church. (I am not sure they got a hearing in other unrelated threads).

1.) Perhaps most important of all, its principal treasure is its deeply sacramental Eucharist, yet with open communion- unique in the Church.

2.) Its deep commitment to faith as a common journey in liturgy, prayer, formation, outreach, and theology, a clear example of an approach to Christianity that follows Jesus in pursuing collective salvation, where individuals are "saved" by joining themselves to the larger work God is doing in community, not vice versa.

3.) Its openness, tolerance, and welcome, where faith is first and foremost about who you belong to rather than what you believe.

4.) Its unwavering commitment to beauty in worship, education, and public arts, increasing its sacramental witness to the goodness of God and Creation.

5.) Its increasingly prophetic voice for inclusion and justice, at great personal cost to itself, yet of tremendous import to Catholics and Protestants alike.

6.) Its increasing embrace of the contemplative dimension of the Christian faith, in practices such as centering prayer, Taize worship, the labyrinth, retreat and pilgrimage, Celtic spirituality, Benedictinism, and more.

Together these treasures comprise a transformative faith that is worth preserving. TEC need not look or sound the same as it does now in order to be vibrant in the future; indeed, its liturgical forms must change, and it must come to greater terms with its own immense privilege and continue to channel this in kenotic ways. I agree with Matt Fox that the church must travel much lighter in the future, and am excited to see what this might look like in TEC.

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jmwhite1
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jmwhite1

I think an important, if often overlooked, piece of Episcopal identity is our lack of a confessional formula. In contrast to the Lutherans, for example, we are not stuck with convincing people they have 16th century problems so we can provide our 16th century solutions (I know that's a simplification). I think this frees us in a unique way to pursue discernment of where the Spirit is calling us now.

Relatedly, our approach to faith has been focused on how to live as Christians in the world that is. To get all theological, our ethos is centered on Sanctification, the pursuit of the Holy Life.

Jon White

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