Disease of Unbelief

Episcopal Church Continues to Decline Latest Figures Reveal

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue
www.virtueonline.org
10/15/2008

If Episcopal Church leaders thought they could get away with it, they were sadly mistaken.

If they thought the church would be “saved” by belief in Millennium Development Goals, they were twice mistaken.

If Episcopal bishops thought that sitting on the backs of late model convertible cars advertising their support of pansexual behavior in “gay parades” would jump start dying parishes with a new generation of “inclusive” American Christians, they were also mistaken. It’s not happening.

A moderately conservative bishop told VOL that the House of Bishops is so “fundamentally dysfunctional,” that he feels he will be casting a lot more “abstain” votes in the future, even if such a vote will likely be interpreted as a conservative/traditional vote. He considers his actual voting at all to be an acknowledgement of the dysfunctionality of the HOB. Even moderate bishops unsympathetic to the actions taken against Bishop Robert Duncan were pushed over the edge when the canons were trampled on by Mrs. Jefferts Schori and David Booth Beers. Look for more rebellion in the HOB in the future.

If Episcopal leaders thought it was a slam dunk that they would automatically win all the lawsuits over properties, they again misread the cue cards.

In the Diocese of Virginia this week, a judge set the Diocese of Virginia back on its heels by ruling that Truro Church owns a parcel of land given by Christ the Redeemer Episcopal, that it was properly deeded to Truro Church, and that the Virginia Division Statute covers it. Therefore the diocese has no claim to it.

Hardly a knock-out punch to the diocese, but it at least gave it an ecclesiastical bloody nose. Wait. There is more to come. The diocese has lost three times in lawsuits to retain some dozen church properties. All indicators are that the diocese will ultimately lose. Then the diocese will spend millions appealing it to the Virginia Supreme Court.

In California, it is no cake walk for Episcopal dioceses trying to take back orthodox parishes. Lawyers for evangelical parishes are fighting tooth and nail before they will give up the keys. The parishes are citing “neutral principles” literally fighting for every piece of ground and every building even though neither the diocese nor the national church has put a single penny into their construction.

However scorned the National Episcopal Church and its surrogate dioceses might be, they have millions of dollars from Trust Funds (that have been renamed) to support them in their legal fight for properties TEC says are necessary for future generations of Episcopalians.

This, of course, begs the question: What future generations? By any actuarial configuration, there won’t be one. The average size congregation is shrinking. It was about 70, but that figure is dropping. Conversely, the average ago of an Episcopalian is rising. It is now about 64. Within a decade, without vigorous evangelistic efforts, these churches, the nicer ones, will be art galleries and restaurants, while they could be housing a new generation of evangelical Anglicans. Mrs. Jefferts Schori says she would rather sell them to “saloon” owners. They are even closing churches on Native American reservations. In such orthodox dioceses as Albany, the average size congregation is 39-43. Furthermore, 1,000 Episcopalians are leaving the Episcopal Church, weekly. Between 2005 and 2006, TEC lost 50,084 members. Figures for 2007 and 2008, when they can be obtained, will most likely be even higher. Mrs. Jefferts Schori told a reporter that she will leave the lights on in the vain hope they might return. Two dioceses have left The Episcopal Church. Ttwo more are on their way out the door. More could follow.

VirtueOnline learned this week that while Washington DC and its environs have grown by 40% over the last 40 years, the Diocese of Washington has, over the last 20 years, grown smaller. “Despite a lack of consistency in the way membership data has been recorded, the reports indicate a gradual but marked decline in the last 40 years: Since 1967, the number of active communicants in the diocese’s parishes has dropped by approximately 26 percent,” said a report from the diocese.

Is that fact any wonder when you know that its bishop, John Chane is busy suing a city mission over a property that would provide housing for street people. Just how far out on a limb does he expect to go before the branch collapses and falls on his head? Furthermore, Washington National Cathedral, the church’s and the nation’s “show piece” cathedral is in such dire financial straits that it recently laid off 33 staff to cut costs. Bad morals cannot be sustained indefinitely. People wise up, they don’t want their children exposed to hearing sermons about sodomy from the pulpit.

Ironically, if Proposition 8 goes down to defeat in California, despite major support from Episcopal Church leaders, it is conservative Christians who are fighting the hardest to uphold traditional marriage, according to the latest reports. “See that Amendment 8 is upheld. Homosexual marriage is wrong. If we take sides, we must take the side of God,” said an Orlando pastor.

That’s not the message of California Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus who said of Proposition 8, “Culture is going to manifest Christ in a way that summons the church to new realities.” And what “new realities” might they be – that sodomy is good and right in the eyes of God? That millions of sexually enlightened Americans will suddenly flock into Episcopal churches? It hasn’t and isn’t happening. Since New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson’s consecration in 2003, The Episcopal Church has been emptying faster than a stopped up toilet looking for a plunger.

And the craziness doesn’t stop there. The Pandora’s Box of bizarre sexualities that are now firmly embedded in the church (a transgendered priest from the Diocese of Massachusetts was foisted on the bishops at Lambeth) gets crazier by the day. Lesbi-Gay-Bisexual and Transgendered priests are on their way to a parish near you.

But it’s not just about sex.

We now have an Episcopal priest, the Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding, resident in the Diocese of Olympia, insisting that she can be both an Episcopal priest and a Muslim at the same time without seeing any apparent contradiction.

Six months away from now she will almost certainly be defrocked, if she remains steadfast in her belief that she is called to both faiths. Redding, who served as director of faith formation at Seattle’s St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, said she has no plans to resign or to renounce Islam, any more than she would renounce Christianity. She does not believe she has abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church.

In a letter mailed last week to national and local church leaders, Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, who has disciplinary authority over the Seattle priest, said a church committee, had determined that Redding “abandoned the Communion of the Episcopal Church by formal admission into a religious body not in communion with the Episcopal Church.” Now Wolf is no raving conservative bishop. She was an ecclesiastical pal of PB Frank Griswold, and is firmly embedded in the liberal camp, but even by the theologically wacky standards of TEC, she has enough sense to defrock this woman priest.

Defiantly, in the face of the Windsor Report and a much-heralded covenant that is expected to bind us altogether, Mrs. Jefferts Schori publicly stated recently to a secular reporter that she expected more openly gay bishops to be consecrated in The Episcopal Church. So where does that leave a covenant? No where, of course. It is dead before arrival.

When The Rev. Canon Gregory Cameron, deputy secretary general of the Anglican Consultative Council, was a guest speaker at the recent Diocese of Western Louisiana Convention, he slithered around a question put to him about the Anglican Covenant process if a province (like TEC) failed to sign on to it. Cameron said that individual dioceses would be given the opportunity to commit to the covenant even if their province fails to do so. That’s convenient. And what does he think will happen if the Diocese of Central Florida signs up to it, but Mrs. Jefferts Schori does not? She has the power and she can over-ride anything a diocese might do or want to do. Just ask her attorney David Booth Beers or her hit man for bad boy bishops, Clayton Matthews. It is ludicrous to think that a diocese can do something, anything, without approval of the National Church and that there wouldn’t be any repercussions.

And if you think the ecclesiastical venereal disease of apostasy is just confined to North America, think again.

It leaped right across the Atlantic Ocean this week with an announcement from REFORM, a network of orthodox Evangelical Anglicans, saying that as many as 3,000 Church of England Evangelicals from 25 parishes might just ask two bishops, the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali and the Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn to provide them with oversight. However, it is also possible that Reform could consecrate its own new bishops, in effect setting up a “rival” Church of England diocese.

Without agreement from the Synod of the kind that set up “flying bishops” for traditionalists who opposed women bishops, to seek alternative oversight from a bishop outside the diocese would be tantamount to schism in all but name.

The Rev. Rod Thomas, chairman of the Reform network of evangelicals, said some clergy and congregations may make the “radical” move of secession from the established church because of the liberal direction in which it is moving on women bishops and homosexuality.

He claimed the differences are now so great that there are effectively two religions within the church, one liberal and one conservative, and that some will seek “alternative oversight” because their bishop does not share their beliefs in tradition and the Bible.

So now the feared schism over gays that has seen two dioceses vote to depart the US Episcopal Church is threatening to split the Church of England.

This reporter was told for years that this would never happen in the Church of England. “It’s your problem not ours,” sniffed one Evangelical bishop to VOL. Durham Bishop N. T. Wright is also on record saying it could “never happen here.” He is wrong…again.

The Anglican Communion is coming apart at the seams while Dr. Rowan Williams tells a London reporter that he admires the atheist Dawkins. “There’s something about his swashbuckling side which is endearing. I invited atheism’s high priest and his wife to a Lambeth Palace party last year. They were absolutely delightful.”

Said the reporter, “There’s nobody he (Williams) won’t clasp to his bosom. It can only be a matter of time he goes on the lash with Hitchens.”

He might, but when he leaves the Palace he shouldn’t be surprised if, outside the large Lambeth Palace doors, he doesn’t bump into Archbishop Gregory Venables on his way to St. Paul’s cathedral to preach the gospel to sinners in need of salvation.

For the latest Domestic Fast Facts from The Episcopal Church for 2006 click here:

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/documents/FAST_FACTS_for_Domestic_Dioceses_20061.pdf

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