Proclaiming Good News, when the world looks for bad news | Seven whole days
Candles and vestments were at the center of controversies that nearly tore about the Episcopal Church. In the nineteenth century, lawsuits were filed, schism was threatened, and the church was distracted by fights over things that we take for granted today. Is there a lesson for us?
Scott Gunn’s got a point: we’ve been letting the Bad News Boys (and make no mistake, they’re mostly male) drive the news van for far too long. Time to take the wheel and tell the good news, and the Good News, and assure seekers that they will find a welcome at church, and not a nasty back-biting fight.
Make no mistake, a lot of Episcopal churches have lost members. A lot of Episcopal dioceses have lost entire parishes. Even one diocese, and possibly one or two or three others, may try to secede and align with one of several conservative African dioceses. This looks bad… but on the other hand, a lot of very unhappy people have left in order to find a place more in line with their views.
And that means there’s more room for seekers, except that they are put off by the endless, clergy-driven controversies. Which means that potential seekers need to be reassured that the doors are open, the welcome mat is out, and that for the great majority of Episcopal parishes, the “gay thing” isn’t an issue at all.
They need to be sure that they’re being drawn to a community that will include them and be glad of their presence, not just of the presents they bring…
In my own parish, we’re experiencing slow but steady growth, since the merger. In my pre-merger parish, we were NOT growing, but slowly losing people. That had as much to do with perceived decline as it did with the fact that we had a gay vicar; we experienced growth during the time of the previous vicar, who was also gay. However, she was female, while the last vicar was male. Somehow, it was easier for otherwise conservative people (especially male parishioners) to come around to the idea of a gay priest if she was female. It was just one of those things, possibly unique to our parish.Â Also, there was definitely an element of “abandon ship.”Â We’ve recently welcomed back a family that had left the old Holy Innocents fold, and had gone on to a more viable-looking mission farther to the south. Well, that mission is being closed, unfortunately, and so the family has found their way to our doors (and greeted with great joy). Their vicar was unceremoniously told by the diocese that her mission was redundant, so she’s come to us (with her tiny twin babies) too.
Being welcomed with open arms is really important. As Holy Innocents, we were sorry to see the one family drop away, because we were hurting and every drop in attendance was like another nail in the coffin. But as St Nicholas, we are happy to offer them an enthusiastic welcome home.Â There is nothing to forgive, there is only a sense of things working themselves out. In the case of their vicar, we grieve with her at the loss of her church and standing, and we support her and offer her a place of refuge and refreshment.
I recently had an opportunity to be welcomed while on vacation in Maine; I’ll be writing about that as soon as we’re settled in after the trip. It’s going to be an example of how to do welcome right, and how to do church in a new way that springs from old, old roots.