We found the whole report entitled “Is the Episcopal Church Growing (or Declining?)” a fascinating one to digest, not only from a ministry professional standpoint but as an analysis of the present state of the TEC. (“Present” may be a stretch; the report stops in 2002, just before the firestorm erupted over Vickie Gene Robinson’s consecration.) Some of its conclusions, especially those regarding the birthrate, were reflected in the new Presiding Bishop’s recent interview with the New York Times.
There are two statements that we found of particular interest.
As long as we are a predominantly white denomination with aging, affluent, highly educated members, growth will be increasingly difficult.
TEC’s core demographics have always been its greatest strength and weakness at the same time. As a strength, it creates a snob appeal to the denomination that no other can match, which has fuelled more of its growth than it cares to admit. (Strange, a supposedly Christian organisation, representing a religion that has humility as a hallmark, appealing to pride!) As a weakness, it draws its membership from a group that is less likely to yield to the demands of the Gospel, and all the while yield a smaller portion of its income, than others, as I found out growing up. The birthrate analysis the report makes speaks for itself.
Unfortunately what will happen is that the upper reaches of our society, as they progressively secularise, will find religion increasingly dispensable? (This is a position they will regret in eternity, but for now…) Compounded by the TEC’s compulsion to conform to this world in every respect, the result will be a “product” that is undifferentiated from the one they find at the country club, coffee house, bath house and pub. So why bother?
And this leads to the second item of interest:
But it will require much more than business as usual to expand into other constituencies (the less educated, immigrants, Hispanics, the unchurched). It will take new churches and a new openness among our existing parishes. It will take having something to offer newcomers that changes lives.
Changed lives…now that’s the tricky part! TEC has been weak on that for a long time, even before the liberals overwhelmed the likes of Henry Louttit back in the 1960’s. Radical changes were already impolite; the left’s takeover, dominated by Freudian determinism (that bad potty training!) put paid to the whole idea that a person needed to be fundamentally different once he or she became a Christian.
The report’s attempt to put a happy face on things notwithstanding, we just don’t see a major improvement in things, even though we have to admit that the siren song of Anglicanism–even in the debased form it has in the TEC–is a strong one, frequently in spite of itself. Our biggest worry is that the urge to conform to this world will metasticise into parts of Christianity that were heretofore immune to it.
Do not conform to the fashion of this world; but be transformed by the complete change that has come over your minds, so that you may discern what God’s will is–all that is good, acceptable, and perfect. (Romans 12:2)