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Re: Parish data may tell the story


I agree with you that the parish is the main focus for the gathered
Christian community.  Even where bishops have a high profile in the press,
most people in their pews do not know their names and few read the
diocesan press even if it is sent to them.  Move one level up to primates,
and fewer still in the pews even know what one is.  And archbishops,
forget it, unless, of course it's the Bishop of Rome.

I think the major mission we lay folks do is quite outside the church, in
the world.  Some will never see Jesus until they see Jesus in the way that
we love and care for them.

My spouse does much of his ministry at the parish, spending a day there
each week as the recording secretary, paying bills, interacting with the
fascinating variety of people who drop in at a site in front of the post
office and opposite the Federal Building.

Those of us who are deputies and alternates need to be quite absorbed by
that ministry as well. It is an important way to enable ministries, and
should not be subverted to serve itself.  One good thing about the
Episcopal polity is that a congregation is not limited to local resources
and the crumbs that it might beg from local neighbors. My bishop stresses
that our diocese is one church with 125 mission stations.  We're trying to
live into that vision, some more willingly than others.  It is risky to
share; but it is spiritually risky not to.  In these six counties of
northern New Jersey we have the major extremes of those who run NYC and
those whose poverty rivals that of Bangladesh.

When you do your study to connect parish growth-decline to ideology, I can
point to numerous parishes that were in decline or dying until they
adopted a liberal social agenda, welcoming the homeless, lesbians and
gays, and other outcasts.  St. Paul's in Paterson, NJ is one of our
success stories of this sort, where numerous doctors and lawyers come to
worship with the poor and the dispossessed, to sing in the gospel choir
with them..... to be church together.  The building is a Victorian
monstrosity that I considered one of our ugliest places until recently,
when they raised enough money to re-do it right, but only after building a
first-class shelter and a huge program training people, some with minimal
skills, to get the most out of the talents they have.  The one who turned
it around is an 'out' lesbian priest, Tracey Lind, now the Dean of the
Cathedral in Cleveland, where the same transformation is starting to
happen.  She and I both strongly feel that the lesbigay issues are not the
cutting edge issue of this century:  spiritual poverty, sin, material
poverty, racism, greed, lasciviousness, idolatry.... all make a clearer
bid for that distinction.

Look at what the gospel of inclusion has done to make St. Bart's on
Madison Avenue in NYC experience exponential re-birth and of the best
kind, keeping conservatives and liberals together in common worship and
gospel programs.  Look at All Saints in Atlanta, the cathedral in Jackson,
Mississippi, the cathedral in Seattle, All Saints in Pasadena, The
cathedral in Buffalo, Minneapolis, Indianapolis... where much vitality is
manifest now.

And yes, look at the exponential growth in some major conservative
congregations too, such as Advent Cathedral in Birmingham, in addition to
the ones you name.  I rejoice in those.  I rejoice to be in a church where
we don't have to share the same worship style or even come to the same
conclusions, but are linked to each other through one lord, one faith, and
one baptism.

The danger of setting out to prove that one side or the other has it all
right is that you will inevitably find places that support the side you
like and find decrepitude in places of the side you do not like.  It is
harder, but much more honest, I think, to compare decrepit parishes of one
'side' with decrepit parishes of the other (alas! we have no end of
examples from either side) and the same to compare successful parishes of
each sort.

It's also important not to take the labels 'liberal' and 'conservative' to
mean a whole lot. I used to think, because I was taught to think, that
conservatives were all for piety and orthodoxy but not for social
outreach.  How wrong I was!

Some conservatives think that all liberals hate or at least devalue
Scripture, don't accept any of our creeds, live lives that are at best
vacuous or worst profligate.  I can pass the creeds with a lie-detector
and am nourished by them; I am awfully glad to be a member of a church
that would be appalled to require a lie-detector to be a member in good
standing.  My faith has never been stronger; yet I remember my early years
as an Episcopalian, converting in 1961, three years out of college.  I was
a bible teacher at a prep school and the bible got me back to church.  I
wasn't sure what I believed, if much of anything; but I was welcomed,
loved, valued.  God was at work through all of that.  God's time is not
our time.  All of us now see as but through a dirty glass, but with St.
Paul, I am certain that far better than any faith or hope I can muster
is love.

Of the many conservative friends who visit my parish, most come away
feeling much more liberal.  It's been Anglo-Catholic even before its
dedication in 1848.  When you go there, as I hope you will with me some
day, you'll understand why Bishop Doane chose as his topic for the
dedication sermon "The Beauty of Holiness."

I hope that you will come to General Convention.  My diocese pays the way
only for deputies and first alternates; does yours pay for all?  It is a
big sacrifice for a professor to give up that much time and pay that much
to be there, but as a professor who came to many conventions before I ever
ran to be a deputy, I assure you that the experience is worth it.

Alternates perform some of the best services for the legislative
committees, and many like doing other volunteer jobs.  A lesbian physician
in San Francisco worked for several conventions in the medical team for
emergencies.  Three conventions ago, a ER physician from Orlando gave 10
days of his time volunteering to drive the van for Integrity workers.  
When we suggested other tasks that would tap his professional gifts, he
made it quite clear that his gifts as a disciple of Jesus were being used
quite well 'thank you very much.'...

Joy to you and to all whom you serve.  May God fill us both with wisdom
and compassion, and above all, with the love that God depends on us to
share with those who are starved for it.


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