The current climate in the Anglican Episcopal family of churches is described by the internet blogs and some organizations' websites as anxious, tense and desperate. A 'reality check' opportunity in the last days of July found a considerably different encounter taking place, one drenched in the graceful spirit of mutual responsibility, happening in a monastery guest house in El Escorial Spain. Those present were from, of all places, the U.S.A. and Africa. Could it be happening? Yes, it happened, and thanks be to God, mission to a weary world was its focus.
A group of bishops---or, better said pilgrims---from more than 50 dioceses in the Anglican Communion were invited to walk the Way to Emmaus, during a week-long consultation enabled by Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City, and its rector, the Rev. Jim Cooper.
I was privileged to be one of the pilgrims. Aided by the hospitality of the small but lively Spanish Episcopal Church, and the generosity of the convenors, the pilgrim bishops found their walk to Emmaus, as one said, "renewing, refreshing and hope-filled". This is quite the opposite of the anxious portrayal so often filling cyberspace about Anglicans today.
As a pilgrim I come away from my encounter with Christ, by the very engaging with new partners in mission, with a sense that the road to Canterbury 2008 will be far less daunting than is portrayed by some and maybe even exciting. I hope that I may find a way to express that sense of this Emmaus walk to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
My hope is that the model of consultation employed at this gathering could be the new mode of operation for Anglicans, a trademark minus pronouncements and press conferences; not worrying about the perfectly crafted communiqué but liberating us all, big time. People spoke the truth in love. That's not just a phrase, but an attitude that was displayed in session after session.
The sacrament of unity, the Eucharist, in the final offering of the gathering, confirmed for me the essence of what it means to be a pilgrim, seeking the kingdom of God and its values of justice, peace and salvation for all. To me, unity at the altar is not an option; it is the outward sign, symbol and reality of encounter. As Cardinal Newman said, "essence all divine." The real presence indeed.
I felt so aware of those around me each day. Our small groups became more like prayer cells, not stranger, but pilgrims. They also became a safe place for honesty and clarity. This is so refreshing in this time in our history, when people who are being open are demonized. As Anglicans we claim John 8:32 as our motto, emblazoned on the Compass Rose, albeit in Greek; "The Truth Shall Make You Free!" Maybe we should have multi-language versions to help us own the message.
As the consultation began closing down, greetings like "See you at Lambeth" from a brother bishop from Tanzania became a sign of expectation for me and, I trust, a statement of support for what makes us a Communion and not simply a federation.
The pure joy of telling of my walk to Emmaus with this mixed bag of pilgrims is not thwarted by my return to "Jerusalem"---or, more accurately, Los Angeles. The biblical story presents the disciples' return home as a major challenge. For me, as chief pastor of a widely diverse family of believers, speaking many languages, I am proud to have been encouraged by people to take this walk with our African partners to show our diocesan commitment to the Anglican way. The beauty of Spain, its people, its food (a challenge for many), its architecture, our churches, was like being at home for me due to the privilege I have of being bishop of L.A. where the Latino way is part and parcel of who we are in the community.
I am also proud that our diocese looks beyond its borders to places like Palestine where suffering is a daily encounter and where walking to the actual historical Emmaus could be a way of danger and fear.
Our partner African bishops, and indeed the Archbishop, Justice Acrofi, bid me leave my sense of victimization behind, nail it to the cross, and renew my personal pledge to the truth of what being human, much less being an Anglican, can mean. One American bishop spoke of being a "punching bag," while Africans pleaded for clarity from leaders in their statement. The whole communications dilemma was very evident.
All in all, and simply said, in this Spanish monastery, in the heat of summer, I came face to face with Jesus. He was in plain view, as the chorus says.
The Emmaus journey in Scripture is a story of despair turned to joy. Being fearful for someone or a situation is much different than being afraid of the same. I often ask; why are people afraid of others, people seemingly different from themselves? I challenge the notion that we all are so different in the end.
For all of us our hope and life, our strength and futures, began in a humble cave in what is now beleaguered Bethlehem, where a holy young woman and a brave husband gave their all to see that for us a child is born, a son is given, his name shall be called, prince of peace. My Jesus, bring peace to our world, our lives, our homes, and yes our beloved church, your church, where we meet you in word and sacrament and in each other.
Vive Espana - Vive Anglicanismo
+Jon, Los Angeles
+Jon, Los Angeles
Dear Rev. Russell:
Funny how much Bp. Bruno looks like a member of the "motley crew."
Grey hair, white, old, a perfect match.
All meant in good fun.
A sinner saved by God's grace
Jim from Michigan.
And as one who started "greying" when I was 25 I'd be the last to stereotype around grey hair! My "motley crew" description was purely a comment on what I found an amusing George Conger photo of what appeared to be a very disorganized lot of bishops gathered to "stamp out heresy" (Conger's title.) The distinctive difference is that +Jon is committed to keeping as many people at the table as possible ... not finding ways to throw people out.
Palestine? Doesn't he mean Israel?
And as one who started "greying" when I was 25 I'd be the last to stereotype around grey hair!
Plenty of respondents opposed to their viewpoints rushed in to do so, and added comments about their weight and other physical particulars, with no condemnation from you that I saw.
I failed to see how they looked disorganized, or indeed anything at all amusing about the picture; but then I suppose that's an issue of perception.
It seems to me that the bishops in that picture are quite concerned about keeping people at the Lord's table, hearing and following His word. OTOH, people who misrepresent God's desires for his people seem to be leading those people away from the Lord's table and to another one.
The bishops in that picture are not looking for ways to throw people out of the Church. They're trying to find ways to get people to recognize that they themselves are cutting themselves off from God.
babyblue, according to Wikipedia (and take that for what it's worth) the actual ancient location of Emmaus is not known for sure; there are a few sites proposed, some in Israel and some in the West Bank. Hopefully Bp. Jon is making an assumption that the true site is one of the ones in the West Bank, and is not denying the statehood of Israel.
This is one of the most hopeful statements from a bishop I have heard. The humility with which it was offered and the tenderness from which such hospitality was received will allow for us as a body to open a bit.
I am struck by his willingness to risk his personal vulnerability to be open to those who have been unwilling to come to the table. Thanks be to God we have those who are willing to walk the road to Emmaus on both sides.
over at VOL(vice online), david v is reporting that 700 people leave the episcopal church every week. does anyone know where he got that figure?
willie ... it's an often bandied about figure with no basis that I've ever seen grounded in anything resembling facts. Donald Perschall is fond of that tossing that particular "factoid" around ... perhaps someone could check with him and get back to us.
From the current thread on Virtue Online,
More than 700 Episcopalians flee the Episcopal Church each week.
I've left a comment on that thread asking David to give the basis for this number. If I get a reply I'll post it. He actually has explained it in the past, but I don't remember it now and I'd have a heck of a time digging it out of his archives.
Susan said . . . .
"willie ... it's an often bandied about figure with no basis that I've ever seen grounded in anything resembling facts."
We went through this a year ago on Mark Harris' blog. I dug the post out of the archives. Here is the original, and If I have time I will go back to TEC's website and do an update . . . .
No Susan, it's data published by the Episcopal Church, and it comes from these two links at the Episcopal Church website:
www.episcopalchurch.org/23235_28079_ENG_HTM.htm, and: www.episcopalchurch.org/documents/FAST_FACTS_2004.pdf
But, I can save you the trouble. Here is "the [TEC] data to back that up:"
2002 - 2003 - 2004
Parishes and Missions:
7305 7,220 7,200
Net Change in Active Membership from Prev. Yr:
-8,201 -35,988 -36,414
% of Churches Declining 10% in Membership:
35% 36% 39%
Total Average Sunday Attendance (ASA):
846,640 823,017 795,765
% of Churches Declining 10% in ASA
39% 43% 46%
% of Congregations with 200 Members or Less:
53% 53% 54%
Median Active Baptized Members:
185 182 177
Median Average Sunday Worship Attendance
79 77 75
Take the 2004 membership loss of 36,414 and divide it by 52 weeks in the year. You get an average enrollment drop of 700 members per week.
If you look at the 2002 loss of 8,201 (an average loss of 157 per week) and the 2003 spike to over 35,000 . . . . Well, something happened in '03 that really opened the floodgates, and I'll bet it wasn't free milk and cookies over at the Unitarians' place.
If you extend the figures out over the next hundred years, assuming that they remain constant, you can easily ascertain that the Episcopal Church will be mathematically extinct in 72 years.
Thanks, pilgrim, for doing the "exegesis" ...
...And here are a couple of numbers for 2005, not the detailed picture, but an overview of overall membership:
2002 - 2003 - 2004 - 2005
Parishes and Missions
7305 7,220 7,200 7,155
Net Change in Active Membership from Prev. Yr.
-8,201 -35,988 -36,414 -42,223
Total Average Sunday Attendance (ASA)
846,640 823,017 795,765 787,271
The decline in active membership is 1.9%, the worst in 25 years.
That was a beautiful post by +Jon. I do think the world of that particular bishop. :)
Something else happened before 2003 - specifically in 2001. I have always attributed the numbers in our neighborhood mostly to 1) the as yet unrecognized depth of spiritual crisis provoked by 9/11 and 2) an aging church...not the AAC or +VGR, etc.
Scott from CT
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