I had an email exchange with a clergy colleague yesterday in which we talked about how the decisions of General Convention might play themselves out in the diocese of Milwaukee and locally. In the course of that exchange, he suggested that I might be anxious about those developments. I quickly responded assuring him that I have no anxiety about what might happen here. I am quite excited about the future of the Episcopal Church and the path that has been laid out from General Convention 2012.
Of course there are those who are anxious and worry about what it might mean. There are clergy who are concerned about how GC’s decision might play out in their parishes. Some worry whether there is a place for them in the Episcopal Church. I share their concerns and will work to make sure that the Episcopal Church remains a place where people can disagree about important matters and still come together to worship God and struggle together to discern God’s will.
There is much that could lead to anxiety, not least reports in the media. But those reports are not the story of the Episcopal Church. The story of our church is our story. It is the story we tell about ourselves. It is what we experience when we worship together, when we gather in fellowship, or to serve Christ by feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. It is the story we live when we baptize babies or mourn the faithful departed.
Ron Pogue has written a thoughtful essay in which he encourages us to embrace what General Convention has done: “Now is a perfect time to be unapologetically Episcopalian.”
Let’s be who we say we are. – We really have nothing to fear about this decision. We have every reason to rejoice as we learn to live into the new opportunities it presents. We can hold up our heads and with humility, generosity, and without apology, we can do even more than ever to manifest God’s love. We are stewards of important, life-transforming work that God wants accomplished specifically through our Church. We are Episcopalians! And, as someone has pointed out, there is no asterisk on those signs that say, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!”
On the other side of the pond, the Church of England is also struggling with restructuring and with the fall-out from its own General Synod, at which the decision in favor of the ordination of women bishops was deferred. Sam Charles Norton writes with insight and passion about what he believes the debate over women’s ordination teaches us about the church:
The dying of a church is not a management problem, it is theological and spiritual. In my view, the real issue is that there is is a hole where our understanding and practice of the gospel should be.
Norton is writing with an eye to the difficult adaptation the Church of England is having to make to the realities of changing culture in England.
The context is different here. I wouldn’t characterize ours as a “dying church.” It could die, if we do not adapt to the culture in which we live. It will die if we are unable to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ
This is a point on which Ross Douthat and I agree:
The defining idea of liberal Christianity — that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion — has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction, or for a world where Christianity becomes the exclusive property of the political right.
Proclaiming the good news is not hard. It takes courage, persistence, and deep faith in God. It takes a willingness to try new things and the freedom to fail. General Convention has given us some new tools. Let’s get busy.