Thursday, December 31, 2009


This is a time of year to look back (yech! skip that) and ahead. For the Episcopal Church, there are many challenges before us, many of which have been discussed on this site – because they aren’t new challenges – but one that we must not ignore are empty pews at too many services in too many Episcopal churches.

We can’t keep the pews filled with “cradle Episcopalians” unless we start breeding a lot faster. We need converts from other denominations, other religions, or from no religion.

Here’s a story about how one Episcopal priest responded to an opportunity to rope in a potential convert:

Given my spiritual longing, I decided it was time to explore places of worship. Being a secular Jew, my first step should have been a temple. However, the synagogues around here are practically recruitment stations for Obama (aside from the Orthodox ones, but I don't speak a word of Hebrew). So I decided to experience church on Christmas Eve.

Checking out churches online, I found almost none that offered political neutrality. Most heralded their progressive credentials, welcoming the transgendered, but not conservatives.

I was pleased to find an Episcopal church whose website focused on religion, not ObamaCare. I left a message for the priest that I was looking for a church that didn't press a political agenda because I wasn't a liberal.

I received an icy reply from the priest, the Reverend Lucy, who said with barely-contained disgust, "I don't think you should check us out."

You can read the whole article here.

There is a happy ending (of sorts) to this story. The writer did find a church where she felt welcomed:

Beyond the music and pageantry, what moved me the most was being with hundreds of people who loved God. Maybe some were questioning his presence or feeling abandoned. But they showed up, and that's half of life.

It was a stirring night for this wandering Jew who has traveled from east to west, from Left to Right. As the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote, "This moment in time God has carved a place for you," and sitting in the sanctuary, I felt that place.

Even though I didn't know the right words, or the hymns, or how to pray, it didn't matter. All the differences among people -- race, class, politics, even religion -- vanished. Faith, I realized, is the ultimate uniter.

And in a heartbeat, I understood why leaders from Marx to Mao try to keep people away from God, and why they will always fail. I flashed to an image of those mothers who somehow find the superhuman strength to lift up a car and free their children.

On Christmas Eve, I learned that this same unstoppable power exists inside all of us, especially when we stand together. As Jesus himself taught, faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain.

The whole article is here.

I’m saddened a little that she found this welcome in a Roman Catholic church, not an Episcopal one. Aren’t you?

Happy New Year from the Godfather.


  1. I have been attending a Catholic Church for over a year now, and I have to say it is a pleasant surprise to be in a church where politics is almost never mentioned during the homily or announcements. I realize each parish can be different depending on the rector of a given church, but I do appreciate the Catholic Church I attend always (and I mean always) drawing from the readings something about Christ and how we can learn from this without overly politicizing things. This lady may have run into one of those Catholic Churches, but it seems to me that TEC is increasingly aligning itself with UCC, PCUSA and those denominations to grow and that is fine--just not for this lady. All in all, I am glad she welcomed somewhere on Christmas Eve. Too bad TEC let her down.

  2. I hear Roman Catholic friends complain about incessant politicization from the pulpit too (just a different brand of politics, generally). A lot of it really is luck of the draw. But as someone whose political views are *way* out of step with the views prevalent in the Episcopal Church as a whole (and certainly among the clergy, let alone the *gay* clergy!), I can't say I'm surprised to hear about "the Reverend Lucy." It gets really, really tedious, and it gives the lie to all that business about diversity and inclusion we're always hearing about. I find it's much easier to be out as gay among conservatives (whether religious or political conservatives) than it is to be out as conservative in most Episcopal circles. Thank goodness the parish in which I'm serving is genuinely diverse, politically and in other ways, and we don't get partisan politics in the sermons or elsewhere.

  3. I've been in a lot of Episcopal churches, was ordained in a relatively liberal diocese, and now serve in a more liberal diocese, and I have to say I don't recognize the church this article describes. Yes, many clergy are liberal, but web sites that are more about religion than "ObamaCare" are a rarity? Go look at Episcopal web sites and show me where that's true.

    "Reverend Lucy" is a possibility, I suppose, and appalling if true. But this is published on a web site with a significant (conservative) ax to grind -- the article's title is "The Hypocrisy of the Left", after all. Reverend Lucy sounds more like a bete noir than an episcopal priest to me.

    I completely agree with the thrust of the Godfather's piece, but I have a problem with the conservative attempt to convince people that the local episcopal church is overwhelmingly likely to be a place of open hostility to conservatives. It just isn't true in the universe I've inhabited so far.

  4. I raised a similar concern on the House of Deputies/Bishops listserve last spring (what I wrote can be found here: The response was interesting. It was roundly denied that TEC caters to a certain (liberal) sort except for one poster who baldly declared that to follow Jesus faithfully is to be politically liberal.

    I think there is a genuine blind spot here in which folk are truly unable/unwilling to see just how narrowly we sometimes pitch the gospel and just how much our tone and message parrot that of the American left. I agree that this is one of the things we need to face up to and address.

    I say that as one who voted for and continues to support Obama.

  5. As a pro-gay, pro-Obama Anglican, I think there really are a lot of "Rev Lucys" out there and that they are helping to kill off the Episcopal Church. They are'nt all women and they are'nt all to the left politically. The "inclusion" they preach is actually limited to folks pretty much like themselves.

  6. Oh, well. I'll defer to your wider experience. Since I was ordained, I don't get to see many normal Sunday mornings at other churches. The clergy people I know are mostly friends and colleagues, and maybe I'm cutting them too much slack. Still, as I think of the faces of the Reverend Lucys I know and try to imagine them responding "with barely-contained disgust" to a good faith inquiry about attending a Christmas service, I find myself wondering also about a person whose response to the joy of being found at Christmas was to go write an article called "The Hypocrisy of the Left" at a pugilistic web site like The American Thinker.

    I'm on record at a variety of places saying that the great tragedy for me of the current crisis in the Anglican Communion is that the last thing I want as a catholic Christian is to find myself in a church that is to the left of me (or, for that matter, one that looks just like me). My great fear is that the article you quote may one day be true. Maybe it's already more true in some places than in others. But I listen to quite a few on-line sermons (thanks to a life that includes a lot of driving and to a wife who gave me an iPod last Christmas), many of them chosen simply by googling the gospel citation + "Episcopal" + "sermon", and I just don't hear a lot of "ObamaCare" sermons out there.

    In this year of our Lord 2010, I resolve to just keep plodding along.

  7. Thanks, Eric, for a great post (as always). In a small way, I would add to the dialogue here by reminding all of us that yes, in many parts of the country, anything which is preached or fostered which is against the rugged, individualistic Western philosophical mindset (which just so happens to be the constant and unabashed platform of the Republicans/evangelical Christianity) is lambasted as "liberal". The problem I have always had with such political "labels" is that Jesus constantly reminded us (and my how we have forgotten) that the principalities and powers of his day were essentially "anti-Kingdom". In other words, when he says "render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's", he means don't let your beliefs and methods of meting out the Kingdom of God reflect the powers and principalities of the day--be a lion and lamb community; one in which enemies may dine together in peace, etc., etc.

    Granted, it isn't nearly as easy to do as it is to type those words, but more messages which are "counter" to the earthly culture of the day are more in line with the Good News than those which merely dress up and reflect the common culture. Is this "liberal"? Nope; it's what Jesus taught and did.

  8. i don't know. after reading that whole article, it seemed to me to be filled with a lot of anger. i have received phone calls before from people who wanted to make sure that i fit all of *their* political agendas before they would come and worship with us. i have never said anything except 'come and find out who we are and what we believe,' but this particular story seems like it was stacked against whatever the 'liberal agenda' was that this writer was railing against.

    that said, i am glad that they found a spiritual home, whatever denomination, as long as it was a path to God.

  9. Well, I do know that any individual parish can be different than another, but it does seem to me that TEC is facing an identity crises. We can dance all around that topic, but it looks like a problem that is not going to go away. This is something TEC--on a national level--is going to have to grapple with and better delineate for the future. Will TEC remain in communion with the See of Canterbury? Will it split into more parts?

  10. Thanks to all for the thoughtful comments -- more are certainly welcome!

    I note that the event described occurred in Berkley, CA, not a typical American town. As Woody Guthrie said (of the Rainbow Room in New York), It's a mighty long way from the USA.

    Still, extremes can be thought-provoking, as this one was.

  11. Thanks, godfather, for another thought provoking post. Happy New Year to all.

  12. Has anybody noticed the absurdity of an article bewailing the close connection between progressive Christianity and progressive politics, in a context where the identification of Christianity with a certain political perspective (Republican) is almost taken for granted?

    Why is it surprising that Christian churches are as polarized as American society and culture is?

    And someone who writes with such vitriol and hate would have trouble loving God and one's neighbor.

  13. What really concerns me (and I know this thread is pretty much dead by now) is that the conservatives have largely succeeded in convincing the rest of the world that TEC is radical in a thoroughgoing sense. But my guess is that if you visited Episcopal churches around the country randomly, you would see overwhelmingly vanilla BCP liturgies, including the Nicene Creed. Yes, there are high profile places that do high profile things, but I'll bet that in the huge majority of the churches in TEC the Priest says things like "when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all" every week.

    When anglicans are up on our intellectual high horses, we like to say "Lex orandi, lex credendi", but when push comes to shove everybody thinks it's more important to concentrate on their imagined window into the Priest's soul than on the fact that this allegedly radical church has declined to rewrite the obviously orthodox '79 BCP at General Convention after General Convention. Who cares whether the PB thinks it is in her best interest to respond to conservative goading by saying the words "Jesus is the only way to the Father" when I and 90+% of my clerical colleagues say things indistinguishable from it as part of the prayer of the church every week?

    The Episcopal church down the street is much more likely to be boring than it is likely to be offensive in the manner of (the conveniently imagined) Reverend Lucy in the article referenced, IMHO.

  14. Thanks, mwp. Your point is well taken, and well said.