Thinking Anglicans

A Church Asunder

The New Yorker magazine this week has an article by Peter J Boyer entitled A Church Asunder The Episcopal tradition confronts a revolt. This article is not (so far) available online, but a related interview is:

Faith Matters
Issue of 2006-04-17
Posted 2006-04-10
This week in the magazine, Peter J. Boyer writes about how the election of a gay bishop has divided the Episcopal Church. Here, with Matt Dellinger, Boyer discusses the controversy and the changing face of religion in America.

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stevenSimon SarmientoJ. C. FisherDavid HuffPrior Aelred Recent comment authors
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Prior Aelred
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Sadly, Boyer is stuck on the old canard that the more ridiculous the things that religions ask members to believe, the more people join. In the US the denominational numbers are demographic — the mainline numbers are congruent with their declining percentage of their demographic of the overall population (i.e., mainline Protestants parents have fewer children) — FWIW, the Southern Baptists are no longer growing but are also declining (for the same reason) — the number of Roman Catholics is increasing because of immigration (see all the furor about illegal immigration) — the number of Mormons is increasing because they… Read more »

Byron
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Byron

Our church here in Portland, Oregon, is “broad” church in style and progressive (leading the way with the local Episcopal Peace Fellowship, environmental stewardship, open acceptance of gays and lesbians) – and is fast-growing. Like most Episcopal churches in the U.S., it is physically small. Our biggest problem, now with four Sunday services, is fitting everyone in. It is unfortunate that Boyer doesn’t dig a little deeper to see what’s really happening on the ground. IMHO when you combine our wonderful Prayer Book liturgy, a progressive and inclusive outlook, and characteristicaly good preaching – folks are hungry for that and… Read more »

J. C. Fisher
Guest

Boyer may *attend* an Episcopal church (for now), but his upbringing… “Episcopalians, to people who aren’t Episcopalians, are country-club people. I grew up in an evangelical family, Pentecostals and so on—the Baptists were High Church to us. To most denominations, Episcopalians were people who went to a sandstone church with high arches and stained-glass windows, and were very proper. They always got out just on time so they could hurry over to the country club.” …is clearly the POV he still carries. He views the Via Media as a “watering down” (which will ultimately fail to satisfy), instead of the… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
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As long as God says You’re home now, when I come, I’d gladly settle for water.

steven
Guest
steven

Prior Aelred: Well, if your proposition is true, it seems that one thing is clear: if a church is not linked to a growing demographic it better know how to appeal to a growing demographic or growing demographics. Otherwise, it is doomed to decline. It is also patently obvious that mainline churches, and most especially liberal denominations like ECUSA, don’t know how to do this or they would not be declining in numbers at an ever accelerating rate. Hmmm. Sounds like ECUSA is just as bound to wither away and become increasingly irrelevant under the demographic model as under any… Read more »

Jim Naughton
Guest

I think Steven has a point. The Episcopal Church and the other mainline denominations face real challenges in evangelism, and we don’t seem to have developed much of a strategy for dealing with them. That said, it is difficult to have an honest discussion on this issue in the midst of our current conflict because the conversation pretty quickly focuses on whether theological liberalism is the primary reason for our predicament. (Is not! Is so!. Etc.)

Alan Harrison
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Alan Harrison

There are parts of Boyer’s interview which are completely lost on me, as a dumb Limey. I don’t understand the joke about “whenever there are four Episcopalians there are five” and I haven’t the foggiest idea what “Cheever-y” means. I’m also in some difficulty with J.C. Fisher’s concept of the Via Media. While it is, at first glance, positioned over against the traditional extremes of the Roman magisterium and protestant sola scriptura-ism, I think that Mr/Ms Fisher’s blend of individualism (“DECIDE FOR YOURSELF”) and imitations of secular representative democracy would not have appeared at all typical of a “Via Media”… Read more »

J. C. Fisher
Guest

“Sounds like ECUSA is just as bound to wither away and become increasingly irrelevant…”

Steven, that was the working theory on Good Friday, too. ;-/

Uriel
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Uriel

Alan – Just to translate the phrases you questioned:

The phrase is “Wherever there are four Episcopalians there is always a fifth” (not “five”) – i.e., there is a bottle of whisky. This refers to Episcopalians’ not being one of those denominations which ban alcohol, and indeed, that Episcopalians have been known to enjoy a drink.

“Cheever-y” refers to the early/mid-20th century writer John Cheever, the social environment in whose fiction was the Northeastern US upper middle class, a very large proportion of whom have traditionally been Episcopalian.

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Uriel

Marc
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Marc

Alan: I have no idea what “cheever-y” means either; I thought it was a misprint. However, as far as the joke goes, it’s not “Where there are four Episcopalians, there are five.” It’s “Where there are four Episcopalians, there is a *fifth*,” meaning “Where four Episcopalians gather together there will be a fifth (of, say, bourbon or scotch or something like that. We haven’t come in line with the rest of Europe in using the metric system of liters, etc. – or is it litres?) Funny how we have this thing in America about not coming in line with the… Read more »

faithwatch
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faithwatch

Hi Alan Ummm, Episcopalians are known historically for our love of a party. “Wherever there are four Episcoplians, there’s a fifth” is an old joke. A “fifth” is a bottle of whiskey, slightly less than a fourth of a gallon, or a quart. We are also referred to as “Whiskopalians.” Here’s another joke: Q: How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? A: Two; one to change out the bulb and one to mix the drinks. John Cheever was an American author who wrote of the dissipation of middle class, suburban, America. An analysis of his work… Read more »

Cynthia
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Cynthia

“Cheever-y” would be a reference to John Cheever, and American fiction writer whose tales are often located in the country-club suburbs. I’ve not read the article, as I am awaiting my copy in the mail, but perhaps the other reference was the to old joke, “When two or three (Episcopalians) are gathered together [from the Prayer of St. Chrysostom]] there will often be a fifth,” meaning a fifth of booze. Baptists, some Methodists, and lots of others in the American spectrum of churches see Episcopalians as not sufficiently Christian because unlike them, we are not teetotlers [which I am even… Read more »

Kurt
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Kurt

“There are parts of Boyer’s interview which are completely lost on me, as a dumb Limey. I don’t understand the joke about “whenever there are four Episcopalians there are five” and I haven’t the foggiest idea what “Cheever-y” means.”– Alan Harrison I don’t know what he means by “Cheever-y” either, Alan, but “a fifth” is a measure of liquor. It’s 750 ml, enough to get any man wasted, unlike an eigth/pint which the some of the above people have mistaken to be a fifth, which is about 16 oz which is what you’d be seeing people sipping off of. Then,… Read more »

Bob in Penn
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Bob in Penn

I think Steven has a valid point. In my diocese (Pittsburgh) the conservative parish get the support of the diocesan machine (although at this point +Duncan spends most of his time elsewhere). It’s hard to get people to come into the doors when your diocesan bishop is saying they church is counterfeit. But thats not the only problem. Parishes need to look out how they differ from other churches in their communities or the national church as compared to other national churches. How we market ourselves is one way of growing. You don’t start an soup kitchen in an upper… Read more »

Jim Pratt
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Jim Pratt

Steven,
You have a point. The mainstream of ECUSA (and of the Anglican Church of Canada) has not done well reaching out to new and growing demographic groups.

But it is interesting that 2 of the controversial candidates for Bishop of California have strong track records of doing just that, taking moribund parishes and building them into lively centers of evangelism and outreach

Prior Aelred
Guest

We may be wandering far off topic, but there are many questions about church growth involved here. In the first place, TEC has varied from .5% to 1.5% of the population from its inception — it may be astonishing that its influence has been so great considering its size, but such is the case. Second, the majority of active Episcopalians are adult converts, so we must be doing something that attracts people (are any of the candidates for PB craddle Episcopalians?). This implies that we are not keeping craddle Episcopalians active in the church (although they seldom go elsewhere &… Read more »

David Huff
Guest

I think the Good Prior has an excellent point WRT how the larger demographics of society affect church membership. But something else Boyer said strikes a chord for me. He seems to suggest that the bulk of church-goers want someplace that’ll give them easily grasped, and *definitive*, answers. So I wonder if that demographic which packs the fundamentalist, evangelical venues aren’t at a stage of their faith that researchers like Fowler or Kohlberg would describe as “legalistic.” The “I want to know the rules, and the rules are written in stone. Never violate THE RULES” folks. Might make an interesting… Read more »

Prior Aelred
Guest

David —
I believe that you are absolutely correct — I am more familiar with Fowler than with Kohlberg (although I suspect that they are very similar). The former rector of my home town parish (which grew substantially under his leadership — largest confirmation classes since the 1930s) told me, “The people who are leaving the parish are going because I won’t tell them what to think.” BTW — a significant part of the growth was a result of his outreach to the gay & lesbian communities.

steven
Guest
steven

Here are some of the hard questions I believe will need to be answered in taking the demographic approach- Who is ECUSA appealing to demographically? Conservatives or liberals? Red state of blue state? (Although this question is more accurately divided–as may have pointed out–into red county and blue county and–even more accurately–into blue (urban) and red (non-urban) constituencies). Is ECUSA prepared to give up most of its heartland appeal in order to have more appeal to urban populations? Conversely, is it willing to give up most of its urban appeal to do better in the heartlands? Can ECUSA appeal to… Read more »

Derek
Guest
Derek

Prior et al.,
I hate to say it but I don’t think it has much to do with birthrates at all. Instead, it has to do with the cultural cycle–most Americans (can’t speak for Brits and others) disappear from church in their teen-age and college years. Once they have small children is when they start to return. The *real* question as I see it is: how’s our retention rate and are we attracting the returning-to-church set?

Prior Aelred
Guest

Steven — I have no idea nor influence in any of these questions — personally, I agree with Dean Alan Jones that we should do what we think is right & the rest will follow. Derek — You might be correct in suggesting that exactly correlation between denominational membership & family size is purely coincidental, but I don’t believe that you will ever convince any statistician of it. As I said, most active Episcopalians are adult converts (this is certainly true in the monastery) — this would mean that many cradle Episcopalians drift away & don’t come back but many… Read more »

faithwatch
Guest
faithwatch

Prior Aelred said,

“remember the Charleston woman’s comment on The Decade of Evangelism, “I don’t understand this evangelism; I think everyone who OUGHT to be an Episcopalian already IS one!”

LOL! I thought that I had heard most of the good old Episcopalian jokes, but this is a new one on me!

J. C. Fisher
Guest

“Is ECUSA prepared to give up most of its heartland appeal in order to have more appeal to urban populations? Conversely, is it willing to give up most of its urban appeal to do better in the heartlands?” Just a quick response to this one: JCF, Queer Episcopalian Rad, coming to you from the U.S. heartland! ;-p (Which is to say: Steven, are you positing a false dichotomy?) There is, admittedly, a bigger North/Dixie split, however. Is there something in the (white, usually) U.S. Southern mindset, which requires a *group to despise*, in order to maintain its identity? (Southerners, please… Read more »

Marshall Scott
Guest

Regarding the demographics: in light of the number of us who are converts, many of whom see themselves as “recovering” from a church tradition that didn’t allow freedom of thought, and freedom in one’s relationship with God, we may be in a low before the next big surge. I have some hope that once again people will find simplistic answers will not sustain them in a growing relationship with God, and they will once again come looking for a place where God is not only worshipped, but also engaged. In recent years the statistics are that the numbers have leveled… Read more »

H. E. Baber
Guest

Is ECUSA prepared…to give up most of its urban appeal to do better in the heartlands?…Should it try to change its message to fit the demographics of particular locales or people groups-conservative, liberal, latino, anglo, etc.? Why should it? Why not specialize in providing what it does best for people who like that kind of thing? Other people can go to churches that do the kind of thing they like. Why not say: We’re the Episcopal Church. We specialize in high liturgy, classical music and nice architecture. If you want guitars, try the Catholics. We ordain gays, bless same-sex unions… Read more »

Brian Gilhuly
Guest
Brian Gilhuly

Steven,

The term ‘fifth’ as a liquor measure is a pure Americanism, unknown even here in Canada. The reason is the unique size of the US gallon, 128 oz. as opposed to 160 oz. for everybody else who uses gallons. 750 ml. is approximately one-fifth of a US gallon, but not of a UK, etc. gallon.

The Canadian term for a 750 ml. bottle is “twenty-sixer”, reflecting its size in non-US ounces. I’ve never heard a ‘twenty-five Anglicans’ joke, though.

Cheers,
Brian

Prior Aelred
Guest

Enjoying the advantage of not being on any Evangelism Commission, I have the luxury of agreeing with Dr. Baber, although with the caveat that I have found the preaching in the Episcopal Church far preferable to the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian & Roman Catholic sermons that I have heard — in part this is also a matter of the different style of what one desires in worship, which is also congruent with the main thrust of Dr. Baber’s comment. TEC has never been and is never going to be a large church because we do not offer what most people want… Read more »

David Huff
Guest

I think H.E. Baber has a point, but I will take issue with one thing. My Episcopal parish has *excellent* preaching. Our priests are thoughtful, engaging, relevant, intellectual in the best sense, and they never “talk down” to the congregation.

FWIW, we are a pretty mainstream, broad church, which makes us a bunch of flaming “liberals” in our, particular diocese 😉 and growing like gangbusters. (sorry to disappoint those who think that only conservative, “orthodox” parishes are growing…)

steven
Guest
steven

All: A lot of interesting responses to the questions posed. I don’t agree with most of them, but that’s no surprise. However, I think it is very worthwhile for people to engage the issues related to demographics, and I’m pleased that so many took a shot. It seems to me that the issues/responses basically boil down to: (1) Does ECUSA change its message to increase its appeal? Everyone says no. (2) Does ECUSA change its style of worship to increase its appeal? Most who touched on the issue seem to say no. (3) Does ECUSA need to try to seek… Read more »

J. C. Fisher
Guest

“So, I can respond to some of your comments from first hand experience. The urban/non-urban divide is quite real and I was shocked to find when I moved up here 6 years ago that the folks around me were just as proportionately conservative/liberal as the ones I’d left behind in North Florida. Even in a “blue” state, the dividing line has more to do with urban location (particularly major urban location) than anything else.” Steven, I’m originally from the (suburban/urban) West Coast, then lived in NYC, then rural Central PA, now smalltown Michigan. And from *my* perspective an “urban/non-urban divide”… Read more »

steven
Guest
steven

Hi JCF: There are indeed conservative/liberal folks mixed up in different proportions all over the place in this great country of ours. I’m quite aware of that. And, in the city it doesn’t make much difference as there will often be enough conservatives within traveling distance for 1+ church(es) due to population density. (And, enough liberals in the same area for several churches). However, in the country people are more spread out. In areas where there are only enough conservatives in traveling distance for one church, there is unlikely to be enough liberals. (I’m speaking generally–i.e, my remarks don’t necessary… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

Steven
Let us have no more personal remarks about other commenters please. Not even in P.S.

steven
Guest
steven

Simon:

You’re right. My apologies to all, particularly JCF–who I wouldn’t tease in the first place if I didn’t think she was a very nice and interesting person.

Steven

P.S.-I hope you’re only talking about negative personal remarks instead of compliments, or will at least make an exception here to let me counterbalance my last personal remark. /s