I am looking ahead to my vacation, much needed. But I am also looking ahead to the future of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
It may be that the Archbishop of Canterbury's notion of a two-track Communion -- first mentioned years ago -- will indeed come to pass.
All of this is very sad in my opinion -- because I am and will remain very much invested in a vision of the Anglican Communion which sees it as an alternative to Roman or Eastern Orthodox churches -- but which still upholds catholicity, etc. I share the dream of a global fellowship of regional churches which profess the one faith of God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit -- but which experience a degree of variation in their local interpretation and incarnation of that faith.
I think The Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada need the Communion more than the Communion needs us. I am not talking finances here -- or control -- or domination. We need to be in full communion with people who do not live in the contexts we live in. That's what catholicity means.
If they will not have us, because of our choice to do what we think the Spirit is calling for us to do anyway, then this is very sad. I do not think we are to be blamed or need to accept full responsibility for the loss of communion, but we ought to recognize and lament this loss.
I think we need to find a way forward that seeks the maximum degree of Christian unity possible -- not a way that makes possible and comfortable lesser such relationships.
I suggest that one way for us to approach the future -- inside the Episcopal Church as well as in relation to other Anglican churches -- is to redouble our commitments to what we think we are all about any way.
As such, I would like to see an intentional focus on that which we are truly passionately excited about. And it would be my hope that this would be more than talk of programs, or agendas, or single-issue advocacy groups, or things which do not keep the main thing the main thing.
Notably, I'd like to see a bit more cohesiveness and discipline in a church which loves to talk about its canons and how the General Convention is our topmost authority. As such, I'd like to see more folks abiding by the language and rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer that we have. More teaching and proclamation about all the elements of the Baptismal Covenant -- and not merely it's last line regarding the dignity of every human being. More teaching about why salvation is BOTH individual and corporate. More teaching about why Jesus Christ is the second person of the Holy Trinity, and therefore, as fully divine, is the incarnate presence of the God who is the unique creator, unique redeemer, and unique sustainer of the world. If he's the Son of God made flesh -- then friends -- of course he's the way, the truth and the light. Pluralism and respectfulness of other faith traditions does not require avoiding, regretting or denying that our most primary tenet is that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. I'm frankly astonished that anybody thinks we need to refrain from making our core proclamation in pluralistic conversation with other faiths -- because the other partners in that conversation do not. We do not honor the Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and so forth with whom we are in conversation when we backpedal on our core convictions. They say what they believe -- and we need not be offended; so why should we not do the same?
We need to tell ourselves the truth about our institutional reality: We Are Shrinking. When we lose membership, we shrink. Simple as that. It doesn't matter if we lose people because of lower birth rates, or whathaveyou. Our growth and life depends on including and serving human beings. Nearly every diocese lost membership in the past few years -- and yet the populations of their localities mostly did not decline. What's up?
It's NOT the economy. It's NOT about birthrates. (And, as Diana Butler Bass has argued, it's not necessarily about liberalism either.)
Including and serving people in the name of the Son of God who is Lord of All is our only purpose. Welcoming people, offering them not merely an affirmation that "Questions are OK" but actually providing a few cosmic and beautiful answers (like the Gospel), preaching, singing, working with youth and their families well, caring for people pastorally, feeding, healing, teaching about God in Christ, etc. The basic practices of intentional Christian community are what we are supposed to do, and when we do them, almost certainly, we grow.
I for one welcome a future when we stop fighting over the culture wars and start working together over the peace of God which passes all understanding in Jesus Christ.
Will there ever be a time when leading Episcopalians stop saying that decline is no big deal, that church growth is somehow bad, that strong Christ-centered kerygma is 'offensive'? Honestly. I'd love it if the next General Convention had a single-issue advocacy group with whom some 70% of the deputies were fully in agreement with on the basic issues that we need to get down the basics of preaching and living the full content of the Baptismal Covenant with the idea that God wants us to include and serve MORE people than we are currently including and serving.
The real elephant in the room, in my view, is this: We Are Shrinking. When General Convention passes resolutions which affirm this -- then I will believe we are being authentic in telling ourselves and the world, "This is who we are, we are shrinking, but we want to start growing instead."
When something shrinks for long enough -- it doesn't really matter how vital it thinks it is.