Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Myth of the Decline of the Episcopal Church

The Very Rev. Ian Markham, Dean, Virginia Theological Seminary, spoke to the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware in 2013. He said that the myth of the decline of the Episcopal Church is at once inaccurate and mis-placed.

Part One of Two.

So, the first issues he cites is that up until 2002, the Episcopal Church and the ELCA (and it's predecessors) generally bucked the trend of decline in the Mainline Protestant Churches.

Second, he says that we have a very fluid notion of membership and that ASA does not capture the reality of people who attend regularly but who "take turns." (An issue those in my parish have heard me puzzle about for years, btw.)

Third, most Episcopal Churches automatically appeal to a variety of groups because most parishes have two services: one traditional and quiet, and one either more musical, more contemporary, or more family oriented.

Part two of two

He talks about the narrative of despair which is used by those who have a real problem with our tradition. In Part One, he cites a Conservative/Reasserter bishop and a Liberal/Progressive Bishop who both need the narrative to despair to reinforce their particular prescriptions for saving the Church.

Markham says we need to change how we think of things. For example, how we count. We don't count the 38,000 people who take part in Episcopal liturgies in our schools at every level from pre-school through college. We don't the ones who live in our 156+ retirement complexes and who take part in Episcopal liturgies every day if not every week, about 16,000 every week.

(We also don't count the people that we send people out and bring communion to via our lay Eucharistic visitors, deacons and priests. We send them out from our liturgy "to share with us in the communion of Christ's body and blood" as an extension of our common worship. In my parish, that's four to five people every week. How many is that across the whole church? We don't count them either.)

We need to tell the story that we are in fact a church that proclaims Jesus Christ, effectively disciples our members, and allows people to explore and live that faith in creative, meaningful ways that makes a difference in our world.

Video by Danny N. Schweers

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