I recently read an article detailing the collapse of the Episcopal Church, which can be found here. Over the years, I’ve read quite a few articles such as this, proclaiming ‘the end is nigh’ and doomsaying TEC (The Episcopal Church, national). Some of the points in this particular writing are accurate—we’re an aging church with little diversity and our ethos is stuck in an old mentality of ‘they’ll come to us’. But much of what the good dean from General Theological Seminary states seems to be the musings of a jaded and tired priest, whose context doesn’t provide much hope for his surroundings. He is still going to ‘go down swinging’ (sic) and hasn’t given up, but his projection is that the church will decline to an average Sunday attendance of 400,000 nationally by 2035.
And I don’t want to believe that.
While numbers and statistics point to his favor, I feel as though he’s missed something vitally important: There are pockets of Episcopal culture throughout the country that are already implementing the changes he deems necessary. The Diocese of Oklahoma is growing and diminishing at the same time. We’ve seen growth in recent years, followed by decline, but the numbers are not too overwhelming. As many of the boomer generation clergy retire, they’re being replaced by younger enthusiastic priests and deacons who have not accepted the imminent collapse of the church. This isn’t to say that boomer clergy are to blame—they have run the race well and provided us with stellar leadership for well over four decades. What I’m attempting to convey is the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit and the life-giving energy being passed from generation to generation.
Take ECOTR for example. Our church was on the brink of collapse, itself. Attrition and differences of opinion led to very few people in the pews, barely affording to keep the doors open and the lights on. And yet…here we are. The boomers blamed in his article are the same generation that kept hope alive, even the smallest amount, feeling in the depths of their souls that God wouldn’t forsake them and that their faith would be rewarded. Instead of allowing the words from talking heads to diminish your hopes, you stood firm in the face of collapse. You didn’t allow negativity and talk of demise to dash the Holy Spirit’s flame within you. You stood tall, proud, and shouted back, “We will not be beaten. We will not go quietly. We are the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, and we will continue proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, regardless of what anyone else tells us.”
The only collapse I see happening in the world today is the collapse of tired naysayers who nostalgically long for ‘the good ole days’. There are ebbs and flows to any life-cycle, tides of growth and attrition that naturally occur. If you see articles such as the one linked above, know that. And continue to believe. Because there’s one thing the dean said that I absolutely believe, with one caveat:
“The church as we know it is dying. But the church itself is not dying, because it can't. The church is God's creation. It's not ours to kill; God help us we probably would have already if we could have. And that rebound in the 2040s, if there is one, will be because have seen the new way of being church that God is calling us, and have embraced it.”
The caveat is that I don’t think we’ll have to wait until 2040 for a rebound, because we’ve discovered that new way of being church.
We’re living it, now.
Keep up the hard work and determination. Keep the faith. Long live the Episcopal Church. Long live Resurrection. And thanks be to God for that.