Saturday, September 22, 2007

What I Would Have Asked Rowan Williams

I was not in line at the microphone when questions from the press were taken at Friday's press conference with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. By the time I had formulated my thoughts in a halfway concise way in my head, Neva Rae Fox, communications specialist for the Episcopal Church, had announced that we were at the last question.

But I would have asked Rowan Williams this:

Your Grace, what would you say to the priests who have watched their congregations dwindle by the dozens or even hundreds over the last several years because the departing parishioners believe they can no longer stay in the Episcopal Church? What would you say to those priests who have seen the loss of key lay ministry leaders and well-loved families who have been in the church for years or decades? What would you say to those priests who have seen parish ministries decrease in their effectiveness or even fold because the support for them is no longer there, thanks to the loss of so many people? What would you say to the priests who in light of these factors believe that their congregations will lose most of their vitality if they remain in the Episcopal Church and are on the verge of leaving-- or to the priests who already have taken their congregations out of the Episcopal Church for such reasons?

Because that's happening, folks. Orthodox Anglican parishioners and clergy can testify to it, and it has happened to progressive parishes as well. Nearly three years ago, a progressive friend of mine was taking over Sunday School at her progressive congregation because, by her account, 100 to 200 people of her 300-to-400 average Sunday attendance parish had left over the Episcopal Church's General Convention 2003 decisions.

Let me speak personally here. I consider myself an evangelical with a not-fully-formed Anglo-Catholic heart. The visible unity of the Church, and the reunion of all Christian denominations, has been a passion for about 16 years now. I am a strong proponent of the catholicity of the Church. I am very sympathetic to orthodox Anglicans who want to work within the existing structures of the Anglican Communion. That is my first desire as well. (I am also an idealist, a strong INFP for Myers-Briggs scorekeepers.)

But when I see parishes losing their people and ministries over this issue, then the evangelical and more practical sides of me say, "What can they do but leave?" My desire for the visible unity of the church runs up against my concern for individuals and individual congregations. And it's also clear that the Episcopal Church's heterodox actions are not helping to unite either the Anglican Communion or the body of Christ as a whole.

I would have liked to have heard some measure of understanding from the archbishop over the extremely difficult choices that orthodox Anglican clergy are facing. (I imagine that many-to-most priests have wrestled or continue to wrestle far more than I do on this issue.) I wonder if he would have said anything different than "don't leave because the sacraments are still valid," which is essentially what he told Mary Ailes (better known as Baby Blue) at the press conference. The archbishop's point about the sacraments is one with which I thoroughly agree, but there are other serious considerations at hand here.

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