A Winnipeg Free Press Editorial: Anglican sensibilities

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The same schools of thought will tussle again over the same and related questions in preparation for next year's Lambeth Conference, to which all the bishops of the church are invited. Liberal Anglicans can be pleased that the great majority of lay and clerical synod delegates supported their views, blocked only by bishops on one point. Conservatives can be pleased that the Canadian church kept its practice more or less in line with that of the worldwide church. Since both sides have reasons for encouragement, mass defections seem unlikely.

The Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, has suffered mass defections because conservative parishes, finding no acceptance of their views at the top levels of the church, have withdrawn from the national church and put themselves under the authority of conservative bishops from Uganda and Nigeria. The factional struggles within the Canadian church have so far come nowhere near the level of rage seen in the Episcopal church.
Time may be on the side of the liberals in the Canadian church. The bishops, by a small majority, clung to the orthodox policy which the clergy and laity were willing to change. Bishops are, however, drawn from the ranks of clergy and they may not forever resist the pressure for change coming from below. Their duties make them more sensitive to the worldwide church, but they have not yet shown the Anglican rank and file why African prelates deserve more consideration than Canadian reformers.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesAnglican Church of CanadaCanadian General Synod 2007Lambeth 2008Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)Same-sex blessings

Posted June 28, 2007 at 10:11 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. RalphM wrote:

“Bishops are, however, drawn from the ranks of clergy and they may not forever resist the pressure for change coming from below. Their duties make them more sensitive to the worldwide church, but they have not yet shown the Anglican rank and file why African prelates deserve more consideration than Canadian reformers.”

While the author of the editorial is not identified, these sentences illustrate the notion that the basis of Anglican faith is popular opinion rather than that once delivered.  Interesting how TEC is trying to ride this tide but instead of floating to the top, it is sinking beneath the currents.

June 28, 10:39 am | [comment link]
2. midwestnorwegian wrote:

How does +KJS reconcile her idea that it is a “tiny minority” leaving or wanting to leave with this article which says there are “mass defections”?  Just wondering…

June 28, 11:39 am | [comment link]
3. jimB wrote:


I think it all depends on one’s view of scope.  If Nigeria and Uganda join Rwanda and decline their invitations to Lambeth, from +++Rowan’s chair, one might see a, ‘mass defection.’  From PBp Katherine’s not so much.  So the difference lives in perspective.

Further, both sides in any schism have a certain interest in telling their story so that they appear to be the larger or more solid group.  If you read Dr. Virtue’s new analysis articles, you have the idea that thousands upon thousands of Episcopalians are leaving weekly.  In fact, we should now be so small, we both can become bishops by staying another week or two.  In fact, there have been large parishes who have left.  But two things are true: not all of their members do, and there have not been dozens upon dozens of them.

So, where does truth lie?  Probably on both sides.  TEC can ill afford to loose any parishes, let alone any of the large ones.  That is true both for faith vitality—TEC needs to hear conservative voices, and finances.  At the same time, given an ASA of about 850,000 and a membership of about 2,000,000 loosing 20,000 members while not the same as the end of the world, is significant.

It is true that the gains from lesbian—gay people coming into TEC does not offset other losses.  But it is equally true that there are such new members, they do have an impact and they are joined by some who come because they are there.  (Ancdotal data I know, but I have met two families who came to TEC because of Gene Robinson, neither of which has a gay family member.)

At the end of the day, both sides will claim victory.  If as I expect, Fr. Lawrence is finally approved as bishop in the Carolina election, liberals will announce they are being inclusive while conservatives announce they won.  Fur traders like wolves, sheep hearders not so much. 


June 28, 12:43 pm | [comment link]
4. robroy wrote:

Jim, Gene Robinson promised “countless” people that would replace those leaving. The reality is that the hemorrhage is accelerating, your anecdotal two families aside. The national church’s adjusted ASA loss is now about 3% per year. Those are active, donating members, not fictitious roster padding.

June 28, 1:50 pm | [comment link]
5. chips wrote:

The defections to date are significant - not massive.  If four or more dioceses jump ship after 9/30 - then it will be massive.  In an environment with a second province TEC will have to compete to retain its remaining traditional and moderate Christians, and will be attracting portions of the population which do not biologically reproduce and elite folk whom as +KJS proudly proclaimed do not reproduce in large numbers.  TEC is heading into small enclave status.  The question remains will a second province be large and viral enough to grow - the AMiA’s early returns indicate maybe yes.

June 28, 2:13 pm | [comment link]
6. The_Elves wrote:

Chip, ummmm, “viral enough?”  hoping it’s not spreading something contagious wink  LOL!

But, very definitely hoping a new province will be “vital” (and yes, perhaps even infectious!  Infectious in terms of joy and vision and commitment to sharing the Good News of the gospel.)

June 28, 2:35 pm | [comment link]
7. robroy wrote:

I think he meant virile like my bulging biceps. I think we know which side of the women’s ordination issue on which Mr. Chip stands!

June 28, 3:50 pm | [comment link]
8. midwestnorwegian wrote:

jimB - Thanks for the comments.  I would like more information on the two families that came to the church BECAUSE of Gene Robinson.  I need to understand their motivations better because I just don’t get it.  I guess we should churn out more Islam-o-priests like Ms. Redding in Seattle.  That surely would draw a few more people into the pews too?

June 28, 3:58 pm | [comment link]
9. jimB wrote:

.Robroy wrote: 
... Gene Robinson promised “countless” people…..

Hmmm…. not my recollection.  I think it would have been more correct to say that +Gene and others thought or suggested TEC might become a destination for a lot of lesbian or gay people fleeing other communities.  Could be, they were wrong, could also be that the flood will come after the schism is more complete.  I simply do not know.

Any road, we can agree it has not happened yet. 


June 28, 4:24 pm | [comment link]
10. jimB wrote:

I can describe what they said to me.  I should note the I have no idea of how representative they are or are not. 

In the one case, the reporting about the ‘03 convention conflict caught their attention, and they decided to look at TEC and see what the fight was about.  They concluded they wanted to be in a community that valued women as they had two daughters.  Once hearing about +Gene led them to our parish and they saw girls acting as accolytes, they were not about to leave.

The other couple came because they said, the wanted to raise their eventual kids in a church that is inclusvie and open, which they felt their old one (RC) is not. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you we lost members too.  Over all, I think we broke a bit ahead, but not a lot.


June 28, 4:30 pm | [comment link]
11. Billy wrote:

I agree that the truth lies somewhere between massive and de minimus.  “Significant” is a good word, I think.  The problem for TEC is that, if it doesn’t make some sort of compromise, North America will become a massive mission field for GS provinces ... I’ve been saying this for 3 years.  Look at the inroads we are now seeing.  Ministering to the faithful of the faith once delivered is, of course, the primary aim of these “inroads.”  But more practically, if the 20 parishes that belong to Kenya send their diocesan pledges to their Kenyan diocese(s), won’t that more than offset any money currently being given (or that was being given) by the TEC/Trinity Church grants?  What about the 30 CANA parishes?  The 80 AMIA parishes contributing to Rwanda?  The 23 parishes to Bolivia?  And if they continue to grow ...?  If a separate province is set up of Anglican churches in the US, will TEC be able to compete?  I am 60 and a cradle Episcopalian.  I want to stay in TEC because I think it has become a mission field within itself, which I am willing to plow for the sake of my heritage and the heritage of TEC (and because of my faith in Phillippians 3:14).  But if a separate Anglican province is set up within the US, and there is a church convenient to me, I shall be sorely tempted to transfer ... and I suspect I am not alone ... I know I’m not alone.  TEC is playing with “the end of days.”  But it’s bishops seem to be too impressed with their own purple shirts to realize it.  They lead when it’s in their own interest.  But when they back themselves into a corner, then they turn to the HOD and say they can’t do anything without the approval of the HOD (which is pure poppycock).  There is not a more feudal system anywhere than a diocese of TEC.  Perhaps it is time the serfs arose and tore down the castle.

June 28, 4:49 pm | [comment link]
12. midwestnorwegian wrote:

jimB - thank you for your story and your honesty.  I’m going to have to chew on this for a while because those parents’ behavior still seems completely irrational to me.  And, their daughters could have been acolytes in practically any denomination or parish within that denomination anywhere in the land….hmmm.  When the new parochial reports come out online it would be good for to pull up the report and see the numbers!  I will be interested in my own diocesean numbers.  2003-2005 our cathedral lost 30% of its members (including me), and word from two sisters still attending…the slide has continued.  In the same time, our diocese has lost 19%.  Yet, our bishop is bringing +VGR in for a visit in response.  I’ll let you know if I hear the numbers have climbed after he has been here with his trunk show!

June 28, 5:50 pm | [comment link]
13. midwestnorwegian wrote:

Elves - my apologies if I have made this discussion veer off course!

June 28, 5:50 pm | [comment link]
14. jimB wrote:

Hmm,,,, I thought we were remarkably on topic!  But then I am not an elf—ears are too round.  wink

I think I agree with ‘significant’ as a better term than, ‘massive.’  For any Christian community in the US, in our secular day, any losses are significant. 


June 28, 6:34 pm | [comment link]
15. Ross wrote:

I agree with #11 Billy that “significant” (as #5 chips put it) is a good word.

I’m not sure that an “orthodox Anglican” province in the U.S. would be the disaster for TEC that Billy foresees, though.  It may well be that such churches would grow, but one of the questions would be—is that hypothetical growth driven by people defecting from TEC, or from non-TEC people joining the “OAP” (Orthodox Anglican Province).  If the latter, then probably those are people who were unlikely to join TEC in the first place, so TEC doesn’t lose.

TEC does have a numbers problem; it’s not catastrophic at present, but it should certainly be worrying.  There is the general decline of membership that all the mainline churches are experiencing, and there are the breakaway parishes and (perhaps) dioceses.

If it were up to me to worry about it, I would be more concerned about the first, frankly.  People who have strong enough opinions about the matters at hand to split away from TEC are most likely going to leave no matter what we do; if they can’t go to an OAP, they’ll go to the RCC or the LCMS or some other church.  The loss of these people from the rolls will hurt, certainly—“significantly,” as we said above—but it will mostly be a one-time loss.  The people who are going to go, will go; the others will stay.

However, the general mainline downward trend is not a one-time loss, it’s an ongoing drift, and that needs to be addressed.  How to address it is of course the question.  Assuming that we believe that what we are is something good—and I do believe that, although I know most of you don’t—then the answer “Change ourselves into something we’re not” isn’t an answer at all.  If it turned out that we had to transform TEC into an evangelical megachurch to attract people, we’d be better off referring everyone to the evangelical megachurch down the street and closing our doors.

People point a lot of fingers for causes of the mainline decline; like most large-scale social trends it probably has several things behind it.  I’m convinced that a large part of it is that it’s no longer socially required to be a member of a church… it used to be that the choice of a middle-class family was not, “Should we belong to a church?” but “Which church should we belong to?”  All of the mainline churches benefited from this, because they were pretty much the menu of choices.

But now, you first have to convince people that they should come to church at all, and then that they should come to your particular church.  (Especially here in the Pacific Northwest, where I live… the “None” Zone, in that the majority of people here when asked their religion answer “None.”)  Nobody particularly wants or needs the social acceptability of belonging to a church anymore; and apparently that was one of the major benefits the mainline churches offered.  Absent that, our “product” evidently isn’t as appealing as we thought it was.  That’s a bit embarrassing, to be sure.

But if so, then so be it… in some ways, it’s probably better that churches have to win people honestly, rather than getting them by default.  I would bet money that if you picked a random 25-year-old in a church now—any Christian church, reasserter or reappraiser—and compared them to a random 25-year-old from any church sixty years ago, then today’s churchgoer would be a lot more likely to be there as a result of a conscious choice.  And for my money, any faith arrived at by conscious choice—or even atheism—is better than one settled on by simple inertia.  We won’t have as many people, perhaps, but the ones we do have will actually want to be here—and those people are the ones who actually make things happen in a church, rather than just filling the pews.

I think that TEC has a lot to offer as a liturgical, liberal, inclusive church.  I would be sad to see that disappear—either by catastrophic membership decline, or by morphing ourselves into something we’re not in order to survive.  What we are as a church is what we are; as Gamaliel said, if it is not of God then we cannot live, but if it is then we cannot die.  I have faith that we have an authentic piece of the evangel; but time will let us know.

June 28, 7:09 pm | [comment link]
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