Skip to comments.The Deserted
Posted on 03/24/2006 5:45:51 PM PST by sionnsar
I wish I could find a church like the one we grew up in.
I really truly heard that the other day from someone who grew up in the same Anglo-Catholic parish that I did, in the Diocese of Chicago as it was through the mid-to-late-1970s: before Frank Griswold, in other words. It was a small suburban church, with a seating capacity of maybe 200 in the nave. Until the early 1970s, it was able to sustain three services every Sunday. The 9:00 AM family Eucharist and 11:00 choral (the rector would have liked to call it High Mass, but didnt quite dare) were usually filled, and the 7:30 early service would always get a few. Average Sunday Attendance was probably around 300. The Sunday School space in the basement was pretty filled up, too-Im going to guess about 80 kids. Childrens confirmation classes ran in the low to mid teens every year, and every year saw at least a few receptions. For a long time, the parish was able to support two full time clergy and a professional OCM. This was the boomer generation, mind.
There was plenty wrong. All that Sunday Schooling did comparatively little to form me as a Christian-an encounter with C.S. Lewis when I was about 15 or 16 was far more important (theres a story thats been common to many), and the parish was a bit too smug to do a good job of equipping younger people to be Christians in an increasingly wild and wooly culture. The rector was a tedious preacher, maybe because he was as stone ignorant of Scripture as possible (favorite quote (with surprised look on his face): You mean St. Luke didnt know Our Lord?). I doubt that he had actually read any of the Bible outside of the lectionary since his seminary days. There was no sense of an Anglican life beyond the parish; the bishop came once a year and the Anglican Cycle of Prayer was mentioned during the Eucharist, but the parish had no relationship with any other local parish, much less on a wider basis.
On the other hand, the rector was a marvelous liturgist, passionate, reverent, and dignified. He managed to insure that Morning Prayer was said every weekday at 7:00 (early enough for men to attend before going to work), with not one but two weekday Eucharists (Tuesday and Thursday). For all the limitations, and many they were, it was a worshiping parish. He didnt adapt to the changes of the late 1960s and 1970s any better than anyone else, and by the time that he retired, the parish was a shadow of itself. Now, its barely hanging on, wishboned by the changes to society, the Church, and to the community it serves.
Its well known that the current management of the Episcopal Church has succeeded in downsizing the denomination by running pew sitters through a succession of ever tougher filters. You could almost swear its been planned. How do we get rid of these dodos, they say to themselves. I know! Lets impose one innovation after another until the only ones left will believe anything! Its anybodys guess how many actual and committed members there are now: probably about a million. The official numbers are about as believable as old Soviet steel production reports.
The point of this rambling reminiscence is to ask, where have all those boomer Episcopalians gone? How were their bonds of attachment to the ECUSA loosened? Is there a way to regain at least some? These are questions, and I do not propose answers. But it does seem to me that the gradually coalescing planetismals of North American Reformed Anglicanism need to pay attention to the many who have left the Episcopal Church in the last 30 years or so. Most of the attention so far has gone to larger structures-how to preserve faithful dioceses, or faithful parishes in revising dioceses. Thats natural enough, but at some point, if the Anglican Reformation is to be credible, some attention must be paid to this natural constituency. Some have wandered away from any church, some have found homes (happy, uneasy) in other denominations, some have joined with one of the Continuing churches; of these many, some would be glad to return to a reformed Anglican Church. Reaching this group will involve stepping on some Diocesan toes, and for this reason a lot of the work will continue to be done under the shield of bishops overseas; I am sure that one of the main reasons for revisionists bishops near hysteria over border crossing is a fear that any degree of vigorous church planting in their dioceses would begin to empty their pews even more. Its better to litigate and scream and inhibit than to feed the sheep, not to mention to risk life and limb scrambling over rocks and crags to find the missing.
There are viable steps short of full union. An interim step might be an organization like NAPARC( http://www.naparc.org/ ).
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