"then wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far. Let us descend now therefore from this top of speculation; for the hour precise exacts our parting hence" Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines585-590

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reports of the death of the Episcopal Church have been greatly exaggerated

I spent a couple of days at a Board of Trustees meeting for the seminary where I am a student.  As an institution, we face challenges, but I also feel that the institution is being largely honest with itself and is doing the hard work of discerning its call and marshaling its resources to answer that call and finding partners to make its mission possible.  I can also say that I have experienced it as a place lively with the Holy Spirit and an experience that has been life-giving and transformational for me.

But as in any group of Episcopalians I have ever been in, there is no shortage of people engaged in hand-wringing laments about the future of the Episcopal Church.  On one hand they're right, the church they knew and loved is passing away.  But in the most fundamental way, they are so wrong.  A church embodying our ethos, our traditions, our theological diversity - our charism - isn't going away any time soon.  How do I know this?  Well, for starters, I know this to be true because I get to spend my days surrounded by faithful persevering people who love the Episcopal Church and are determined to share that love with others.

But also because, all across our church territories, there are amazing groups of people doing amazing things as they live into and live out the gospel.  I know this first hand, because I have never been a part of a parish that wasn't a growing, dynamic, multi-generational, spirit-filled congregation.  The church in which I was catechumenized and baptized had a habit of seeing challenges as opportunities and continues to draw in new people and new energy for a multi-faceted ministry.  My "home" parish is a place that continues to impress me, a kind of place where the significant problem is how to have enough space for all the kids in Sunday School or creating enough plots in the community garden.  It is a place blessed with people of great gifts who seem to continually appear and step-up just as they are needed.  And my current parish is an actual manifested miracle.  By all rights it should have closed years ago, but it is the little parish that could and doesn't let fear get in its way as it works for justice, peace, and reconciliation in a pretty tough neighborhood.

And because almost anyone who might actually read this likely attends one of these churches - it is because of you that the Episcopal church, in its essence, will not cease.  I don't think we're necessarily the best church (Well no, I do, though we have loads of things we could improve upon).  But it is a church that has a place in Christ's body and a role in Christ's work.

Is it likely to shrink?  Maybe a bit more.  But I know lots of people eager to be entrepeneurial ministers, people eager to remake the church and re-enliven it for a new century.  People who take seriously our existence as the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (our proper denominational name) and aren't content to just provide palliative care for dying congregations.

Episcopalians can fairly be said to be people focused on a theology of Incarnation, people focused on the creative goodness of God.  We are Resurrection people, but as Bishop Waynick of Indianapolis reminded me this week, "only dead things get resurrected."

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