News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church recently gave the keynote address to the Diocese of New Jersey’s diocesan convention and delivered herself of the following observations.

KJS: The Episcopal Church is growing – in a few places. In the last year, four United States dioceses grew both in average worship attendance and baptized membership: Navajoland, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Alabama. Most of our overseas dioceses are growing numerically. The rest are shrinking, either slightly or precipitously.

VOL: Mrs. Jefferts Schori should be embarrassed to announce that the Diocese of Navajoland has grown, bearing in mind that its last real bishop was accused of and admitted to having sexual relations with his nephew. Bishop Steven Plummer later died.

Here are the actual figures:

Total ASA for all four dioceses was 212. This church growth is worth mentioning? She should be ashamed to even let this bit of news out.

From 1998 to 2008 in Alabama, the overall ASA decline was 863 or -8%. For North Dakota in the same period, it was zero percent. For Wyoming, the decline was 563 or -20% In Navajoland, the loss was 101 or -34%

Total TEC ASA in 2007 was 727822
Total ASA in 2008 was 705257
Total overall ASA net Loss was 22,565

For the last 10 years all dioceses, except South Carolina, declined in membership and ASA. And the Presiding Bishop is proud of those numbers?


KJS: The theme of this convention is “go forth for God.” It’s not “sit here and wait for people to turn up for God.” God tells Abram to “go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you” – God says, “Leave home.” We have to be willing to leave our lovely churches, and walk out our beautiful red doors and discover God already at work in the larger community. The work that you’re doing here in campus ministry is a great example. Younger generations are an invaluable part of this Church and are assets to it.

VOL: True, but you have to have a message. Mrs. Jefferts Schori and 95% of the Diocese of NJ don’t have one. The priests there might just as well belch loudly in the Pine Barrens with more hope of being heard and understood. By the way, if she really believes in folk leaving “our wonderful churches”, perhaps she might consider selling them to orthodox priests in the ACNA they could use them in their quest to plant 1000 new churches in the next five years.

KJS: A dozen young adults, both women and men, are part of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women – the youth delegation – meeting in New York this week and next. They are asking wonderful questions about how to improve the lives of women, how to ensure women’s reproductive rights. They are talking about the effects on women during wars, they are talking about war in general, they are talking about what to focus on here in the U.S., how the church can be a support for GLBTQ people, and they are talking about a whole raft of other things.

VOL: There you have it. It’s all about women’s reproductive rights, queer acceptance, “no change please, we’re Episcopalians” and war. NO news of the life changing gospel message of Jesus Christ. God forbid.

KJS: When I asked what they would want the larger Church to know about them and their peers, they said things like, “we’re passionate; we value and want to be in relationship with our elders; we are not just interested in technical communication like Facebook and texting – we want face-to-face relationships; we are Episcopalians because we find Episcopal spirituality fits us best, and we need more flexibility in worship.” Many of them have become Episcopalians very recently, either by baptism or conversion from another tradition. They are idealistic and urgently interested in changing the world. Yet almost no one in this room is going to meet them by staying home.

If we really want to follow Jesus, we are going to have to leave home. That’s a good part of what he means by saying, pick up your cross and follow me. It doesn’t just mean you’re going to have to suffer. It means get on the road, see new territory, and experience God in new situations. Leave your comfortably padded pew. Pick up your cross and see the world – from a new perspective. Have you ever thought about Jesus as a travel agent or tour guide? He is interested in leading us into new places.

VOL: “Travel agent”….”tour guide”. Is she promoting an eco-tourist message of salvation? What about being evangelists and telling people the Good News about Jesus, or would she prefer the message of Ms. Ragsdale, president of Episcopal Divinity School and outspoken advocate of abortion and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender), who shouted “abortion is a blessing” in her first sermon to students and faculty. Perhaps that’s the new Episcopal evangelism. Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs with a distinct message concerning His Father’s kingdom. If the people would not listen, they were to shake the dust off their feet and go on to the next village. This is not the same message Mrs. Jefferts Schori is promoting. She wants acceptance by the culture.

KJS: One of the more effective evangelical tools right now does just that – it goes into the places where people spend time, at work and at leisure, and it gathers people who want to ask significant spiritual questions. Asking questions is actually something that sets Episcopalians apart from a lot of other traditions, particularly the ones who say there’s only one right answer and doubt is a sin. Remember that bumper sticker, “Question Authority”? I’ve never been sure whether it’s a description of somebody who’s good at asking questions or a challenge to keep asking difficult questions of the powers that be. But asking questions is a central part of our tradition. We don’t insist that doubt is a sin; we see doubt as necessary to growth.

VOL: Yep, question authority. And if you do question the authority of KJS and The Episcopal Church, you will hear from her attorney David Booth Beers and it won’t be pleasant. Just ask Bishops Bob Duncan, Henry Scriven, Keith Ackerman, Jack Iker, John-David Schofield, Mark Lawrence, to name just a few. Four dioceses have questioned her authority. They are now spending millions of mission dollars questioning HER authority over property ownership.

KJS: Young people are hard-wired to ask questions – why? is the most characteristic word out of the mouth of a healthy developing child. ‘Why should I do that, why is the stove hot, why aren’t girls and boys always treated the same, why are some people poor, why has your generation left the world in such a mess, how can we bring peace to the world?’ When we stop asking questions like that we begin to die – spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and probably physically.

Building communities where young people can ask the really big questions is one of the most important kinds of evangelism we can do – and the other important kinds of evangelism are about building communities where others can do the same thing. Theology on tap is a prime example – it offers welcome and hospitality, including a brew (caffeinated or spirited), conversation, and community. It is happening in bars. It is happening in coffeehouses. It is happening where people gather. There are ways to gather questioners, a number of them focused on faith in the workplace. We have always gathered to ask questions. The women’s guilds and men’s guilds in the church did similar work, but they expected people to show up in the church building to gather. We need to leave home and go out there to provide hospitable places for questioners.

One of the most powerful witnesses to going forth is what’s happening right now in Haiti. Almost all of the church buildings in the Diocese of Haiti have been destroyed in Port-au-Prince. The people of the Diocese are ministering to their members and their neighbors in the open air, offering hospitality to all comers. They haven’t just been sent forth, they’ve been propelled, shaken out of their homes and churches, and Bishop Zache tells us so. He said in a letter that he sent out today: “Despite the difficulties we face, many of our parishes have grown larger since the earthquake, because more and more people trust our Church and are turning to us for help spiritually, socially, and morally.”

VOL: We have questioned ourselves to death. No one has any answers at the national church level except to endorse pansexuality, abortion rights, MDGs. Furthermore, if it takes an earthquake at 815 Second Ave., NY, NY, to get the church back on track and thinking about the gospel, then bring it on.

KJS: Since 1785, the Diocese of New Jersey has provided transformative leadership and helped countless Episcopalians to live faithful lives. If you’re going to be here 225 years from now, it means taking up your cross and following Jesus down the road. There are an awful lot of people out there who need an opportunity to ask important questions – young people, Spanish speakers, Chinese and Russian immigrants, and many people who need to know they are loved whether they ask questions or not. We have something very important to offer all of them. Even an esteemed elder of 225 years isn’t too old to go out there and offer that kind of love and hospitality.

VOL: The Diocese of New Jersey will have long since ceased to exist 225 years from now. Churches will be archeological exhibits or the future equivalent of Starbucks and art stores…unless of course they have been bought by the ACNA where you will hear what the real gospel is. The rejoicing will be heard all the way to Nigeria where the same gospel is also being proclaimed.

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