Why I despair of the future of the Episcopal Church

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church met over the weekend and received this dire report about decline in the church. One word description: catastrophic! But that’s not what sends me into despair or wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s the dust-up between the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies (You’ll recall that there was a similar controversy at last fall’s meeting over a presentation by Bishop Stacy Sauls).

Over the last decade, pretty much every measure of health of the church has declined by between 10% and 20% and our leadership is arguing over whether it’s appropriate for the Presiding Bishop to communicate directly with General Convention deputies. You can read about it here, if you’ve got the stomach for it.

We’re in the midst of an existential crisis, and our leadership argues over its rights and prerogatives. I don’t care about the merits of either position and above all, I dread what’s going to happen at General Convention 2012, what actions it will take that will divert our energies, attention, and passion away from ministry and mission. I cite two examples

1) The denominational health plan. However praiseworthy its intent, however just and equitable its origin, it is instilling fear in this neck of the church. Those of us with excellent healthcare at reasonable prices fear being forced into less generous plans at higher premiums. Clergy fear the loss of full benefits because of the requirement that laity and clergy receive the same benefit. All of the parishes in our area are facing budget shortfalls as it is, and are contemplating laying off staff. The requirement to offer same coverage for full-time lay employees will probably mean that many parishes will simply reduce the hours of their lay employees. There is deep concern about the way the Denominational Health Plan is being implemented? What is GC doing to listen to and respond to these very significant concerns? I, for one, have heard nary a peep out of those who in their wisdom passed the legislation.

2) Same Sex Blessings liturgies. In 2009, General Convention mandated that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music gather resources for such liturgies. Rather belatedly, the SCLM began publishing such resources (this past fall). Belatedly, because among the documents is one entitled “educational material for diocesan conventions” that appeared on December 13, 2011. That’s two months after we held our convention in the diocese of Milwaukee.

In 2003, we were completely unprepared for the impact of General Convention, understandably so, because of the date of Bishop Robinson’s election. In 2012, we know what is coming. We know that there will be media scrutiny and intense discussion in the Anglican blogosphere,  From what I can tell of the materials produced by the SCLM, and from what I can tell of what I’ve read, they seem both somewhat superficial and often incomprehensible.

For me, the important question is this: How is General Convention preparing us in local parishes deal with the controversy? And I don’t primarily mean the conversations over the shape liturgies might take.  What materials are they providing local clergy to deal with the phone call from the local newspaper reporter who is writing an article on the topic and interviewing conservative Christian leaders as well?

Once again, my guess is that General Convention is going to leave us to our own devices, ill-prepared and ill-equipped to deal with the local consequences of its actions and increasingly curious why so many of us in the church want to have nothing to do with it.

That’s why I despair of the future of the Episcopal Church. I’ve been active in the Episcopal Church for two decades, I’ve been involved in parish leadership for a decade, and every General Convention in that time has contributed to conflict in the parish and led to diversion of precious resources of time, energy, and passion. I’m looking forward to GC 2012 with fear and trembling.