What’s Wrong with the Episcopal Church?

Jim Naughton asked the question over on the Episcopal Cafe. It’s a great question, that deserves careful reflection and response. And since I’m already in despair about the future of the Church, I’ll happily offer my response.

1) Structure and Governance. Now, I don’t think it’s necessarily our structure and governance that are the problem. Rather, I’m at the point where I wonder whether we are so interested in structure and governance that we lose sight of what really matters. This seems to be what’s recently taking place in debates over restructuring the church, and as Tobias Haller points out, the redefinition of “structure and governance” as “mission.” I wonder whether there’s something in the life-cycle of institutions that suggests when an institution begins debating restructuring intensely, it’s near the end of its useful life (see my previous post on GM and the Church).

2) What is our mission? This is an important question and it must be defined from within rather than over against other groups. The Episcopal Cafe recently posted something about an “elevator speech.” Here’s what the bureaucrats communicators want us to say about the Episcopal Church:

“For those looking for more meaning and deepened spirituality, The Episcopal Church offers honest and unconditional acceptance, which removes barriers to Jesus Christ and permits belonging to an authentic church community.”

I can’t imagine anyone hearing this message wanting to attend an Episcopal Church. I can’t imagine anyone who knows nothing about Christianity, wanting to learn more.

This sounds more like a recovery group than the body of Christ to me, and ignores any mention of the brokenness that I think is at the heart of human experience and which is restored by relationship with Jesus Christ.

I experience brokenness in myself, in my relationships with other humans and with God, in my embodied experience as an individual, and in my relationship with the created order. I see brokenness in the world around me and I see the pain and hurt that bring people to the altar where we encounter the broken body of Christ. We leave the table, and the liturgy, restored and empowered for mission.

If we and our churches are places where people can experience God’s grace in word and sacrament, can experience the embrace of Christ’s love, then we’ve got nothing to worry about, and there’s nothing wrong with us. But if all that we have to offer is baptized new-age gobbledygook and battles over structure and governance, we’ve got a similar future to the one awaiting Kodak.

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One thought on “What’s Wrong with the Episcopal Church?

  1. Thank you, Fr. Jonathan, for reminding me of some of my own work (from the 80s) on the life-cycle of religious communities. One of the signs of the decline stage is the obsession with restructuring! I may have to dig that document out, dust it off, and read it again…

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