Is the Episcopal Church Dead?

Saint Thomas the Apostle Episcopal ChurchA 2012 article in the NY Times announced the approaching death of the liberal church. I find it interesting to go back and look at the article two years later.  The author gave the “liberal church” a face by identifying it with the Episcopal denomination.  But I think the author missed some important nuances in his article that I am hoping readers will help me think through:

(1) Every mainstream denomination is in decline right now, not just the Episcopal Church. Non-mainstream, non-denominational, conservative churches are also in decline.  Their attendance is harder to measure, because they grow and decline overnight with congregants chasing the latest and greatest programs and pastors around town rather than joining and supporting a single church community.  Dear reader, is your church declining or growing?  Mine, St David’s in Roswell, Georgia, is growing by leaps and bounds!

(2) The author also uses John Shelby Spong and his theology to define both liberalism and the Episcopal Church.  I consider myself a liberal Christian (one can not be a female in ministry and be anything but left of center on the vast theological spectrum), but my theology and Spong’s rarely intersect except, perhaps, on social issues.  He doesn’t speak for all Episcopal thought or theology. Nor do I.  Does your church welcome a spectrum of theology or do you have to toe the company line?

(3) There is one thing about the Episcopal Church that is different from all other denominations and I think it makes us uniquely poised for outlasting the decline of American Christianity. The identity of the Anglican church (of which Episcopalians are a part) is the worship of Christ – not a particular theology. From the very beginning, our desire and focus has been to worship together despite differences in theology. I think this is the way Christ meant for it to be. Therefore, rather than finding our identity in what we believe – we find our identity in who we worship. This is why Spong and I, though we have vast differences in theology, can still worship together.  Does your church define itself by what it believes or by who it believes in?

(4) The success of any church is not judged (by God) by how many attend, but how well they love others:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. — Jesus (John 13:34-35)

*****

April is a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

11 thoughts on “Is the Episcopal Church Dead?

  1. As a cradle Episcopalian I have a love for our church. I still attend on Christmas Eve and Easter. But, it is not worth getting out of bed for on a Sunday morning. Nice people and all, kind of the rotary club with some wine and a touchy feely talk. Beautiful churches though as they empty into well emptiness…..

    Like

  2. I am Baptist, and our church is growing, has outreach ministries, and our pastor teaches us to Love God, and to love others! The message is to everyone, and I see us growing, even in the small town we are in, and ministering to those around us, as well as supporting missions around the world.

    Like

  3. I greatly appreciate what you have to say here. I am now Episcopalian and also spent about 30 years in The United Methodist Church. My observation of both denominations is that our leadership is flexible, and we are making it possible for faith communities to continue during a sea change in how the people of the US “do” religion/church. One quibbling point: it’s “toe the company line” not “tow.”

    Like

  4. Great post, April! I appreciate the distinction between theology and worship. Most often I like to focus on all the common beliefs that draw all Christians together, loving one’s neighbor, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, etc.

    Like

  5. I grow weary of articles asking if something is “dead” when obviously it is not. I’ve been reading about how Episcopal and other mainstream churches are “dying” since my early college days (circa 1980), yet mainstream churches still exist and many are still being faithful witnesses to their missions. Your blogpost does a wonderful and concise job of countering one such article from two years ago. The Episcopal churches of which I’ve been blessed to be a member have always been more concerned with faithfulness than with membership numbers.

    I see similar articles proclaiming the Emergent movement is dead when there are still active, vibrant grass-roots Emergent cohorts and gatherings (not to mention very active Facebook groups); Emergent authors are still publishing books (some of them still fairly basic “Emergent 101” but others more substantive); and “spinoff” groups like the Wild Goose Festival and Skeptimergent are, excuse the pun, emerging.

    Like

  6. Our diocese is going strong and actively working with its churches to thrive. Our biggest problem–and that of some of the other mainline churches–is that we don’t get our message out. It is partly because we don’t know how to talk about our faith even to ourselves let alone others. And we don’t get outside our doors in visible and authentic ways. My own church considers itself inclusive and friendly but is bit self-satisfied, and tha bears the risk of being seen as less than welcoming.

    Like

    1. Gloria our little church has been around over 100 yrs. Many did not know where we were nor who and what we were. The church was opened up to groups…AA, NA, etc…and our ministries started to grow also….we have a FREE Saturday Lunch…every Saturday and free to ANYONE that walks through the door. We have adopted a grade school in our neighborhood. There is a shelter here for homeless teens…We, along with other churches, prepare and serve meals to them there. We have food packs to hand out to those standing on a corner or someone needing a meal. They can eat it right then and there, everything is in the ziplock bag. These are just a few of the things. What a difference it has made in the congregation. Self-satisfied is a great term that I saw and it is nearly non existent not. It sounds strange to advertise GOD’s word…but ministries do just that..and you do need to advertise…
      Good Luck to you as you explore new horizons. GOD will guild you on your journey of new possibilities…
      Peace be with you, Kathleen

      Like

  7. I was raised Southern Baptist and haven’t attended church in many years. I think I need to check out Episcopals. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and beliefs.

    Like

    1. Michael please do check out the Episcopal church…Episcopalians are a warm and welcoming bunch of folks…I felt that I had just walked into the front door of home after being away for years. I could all but hear the LORD say “Welcome home my child, I have been waiting just for you.”
      So I am happy to say I am now a very happy and content Episcopalian. We are nothing like what you were used to growing up, I tried so many different churches….nothing felt right….GOD be with you, on your new Journey….

      Like

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s