(ABC Religion and Ethics Report) America’s most influential church on the brink of collapse

Posted by Kendall Harmon

It was the church of George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, George Bush Sr and seven other United States presidents. The Episcopal Church is the US branch of the Anglican Church and it was once very influential. More than a third of Supreme Court justices have been Episcopalians. It was one of the first mainstream churches to ordain women; the first to consecrate an openly gay bishop. But over the past 20 years, the church has lost more than a third of its members, falling from 3.4 million in 1992 to 2.3 million in 2012. Now, following its convention in Indianapolis, the Episcopal Church appears on the brink of collapse. Beliefnet.com reports 46 members of the synod have spoken out in support of seceding from the Episcopal Church; six bishops have petitioned the Archbishop of Canterbury for permission to leave the Church but remain part of the worldwide Anglican communion. Not all the tension is over liberal policies on sexuality. There's also deep disagreement on fundamental matters of Christian doctrine. Author, journalist, and Episcopal minister from Florida, George Conger, explains the developments at the convention that sparked the latest crisis.

You can find the whole transcript here.

Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal- Anglican: AnalysisEpiscopal Church (TEC)General Convention --Gen. Con. 2012* International News & CommentaryAustralia / NZ

5 Comments
Posted July 20, 2012 at 8:26 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. MichaelA wrote:

“...six bishops have petitioned the Archbishop of Canterbury for permission to leave the Church but remain part of the worldwide Anglican communion.”

Does anybody know what this is all about?

July 20, 9:20 pm | [comment link]
2. Mark Baddeley wrote:

I am pleasantly surprised at the even handedness, quality, and informedness of some of the ABC’s reporting on religion these days. Compare this transcript to so much of GetReligion’s critiques - it reads like a “how to report on religion well” example.

MichaelA I’d be surprised if there was a petition. It wouldn’t surprise me if there’d been some informal talks. I doubt they’ll go anywhere, as others have observed, ++Williams’ views on the matter seems to have shifted from Dioceses being the basic unit of the Communion to Provinces being the basic unit. I’m not sure that will continue to be the case - but any Archbishop of Canterbury would not want the possibility of an English diocese leaving the Church of England and yet still being part of the Anglican Communion.

July 21, 1:17 am | [comment link]
3. Ralph wrote:

The article references another article at beliefnet. I wonder how my rector will answer questions about it tomorrow.

See:
http://blog.beliefnet.com/news/2012/07/why-is-the-episcopal-church-near-collapse.php

July 21, 9:50 am | [comment link]
4. Teatime2 wrote:

I think that more articles should explore and develop the “congregational” element that has been characterizing the outlook and mission of parishes in TEC. It was mentioned here briefly but it’s largely important for a number of reasons.

First, few give a toss about 815 or anyone/anything at the national level unless and until the baddies become involved when there’s conflict. This explains why TEC is in financial straits. If few give a toss about 815 and the nationals, and if those who do pay attention are disgusted by the goings-on, then they will make sure that their church giving is directed toward their parish, maybe allowing a bit to go to their diocese. Thus, the dioceses aren’t paying up, either.

And since there’s a big disconnect between 815 and the parishes, there won’t be many ripples if/when TEC goes belly-up. Will TEC still claim that they hold the parishes in trust, then? I doubt it, because then the parishes could make demands on TEC for funds and such when troubles hit. If it does, and it allows parishes to be sold to be TEC debts, oh my. It would reverberate around the Christian world and be the end of liberal Christianity.

What’s really been fun is watching the locals publicly scoff at and disavow the actions of the GC. The congregational aspect is strong. Our priest was interviewed on TV saying that they can do what they want in Indiana but that sort of stuff doesn’t translate here in small-town Texas. And our bishop,  who voted for it, says he’s giving no one permission to implement this and nothing would be decided until there’s been a lengthy period of prayer and discernment among the clergy and laity of the diocese. In other words, let’s kick the can down the road and maybe it will disappear.

I’m sure he’s not alone in telling his diocese this—when the dioceses are shedding members and barely making it, the pointy hat wearers aren’t going to be rocking the boat further unless they care far more about their own agenda than they do the people and property in their charge. I suppose a few are deluded enough to think this will bring in lots and lots of new members and save their churches but they’ve got to have in the back of their minds that it won’t. The funny thing is that they’re likely a turn-off to the more respectable LGBTs who, if they seek religion, are after a more prayerful, spiritually solid, less drama-filled experience that is based on Jesus and not on their sexuality. You know the ones—the TEC activists call them “self-loathers.” But I digress ...

All of this isn’t anecdotal, though. It’s an important record. If/when parishes decide they’ve had had enough of TEC for whatever reason, then they can easily show the courts, if need be, proof of the disconnect, the congregational aspects, and the fact that TEC’s national leaders set an agenda and do a dance that is far removed from the local parishes and non-binding besides. Hierarchical? I think it’s getting easier to prove otherwise.

It’s funny. “Episcopal” is part of our parish’s name but it’s rarely used.  Our parish description, however, describes us as Anglican. I used to think that the church name was truncated for brevity but now I’m not so sure. The brand name is tarnished and a turnoff to many.

July 21, 2:41 pm | [comment link]
5. MichaelA wrote:

Mark, I agree that makes sense.

Also, it would be pretty poor form for an outgoing ABC to dump this on his successor, and he can’t even consult him because he doesn’t yet know who he will be.

But it is intriguing - this is the second report I have seen, and it mentions the same number - six bishops.

July 21, 9:28 pm | [comment link]
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