Thursday, October 22, 2020

Crisis, Challenge, and Hope for the Episcopal Church


Blog 2 The Virus!

This is the second in my Blog series on Hope for the Episcopal Church. If you like these please pass them along to other Church leaders.  It is interesting that after being an on-going commentator on the decline of the Church for now almost 30 years that I received the recent Episcopal News Service article that finally acknowledged the dire circumstances that are resulting from our decline.

Ironically, this came out just as I have decided to lift up the signs that I see for hope.  Do I think our situation is one of “demise” as the article states? No, not at all, as I will continue to say, the upheaval and crisis have created a situation where the status quo is no longer acceptable.  There is hope!

Crisis Number Two: The Coronavirus and its overwhelming effect on our corporate and daily lives.

The Challenge.

When the coronavirus hit the world and North American, our lives changed.  The challenges that came with this crisis are obvious to all of us.  Many of us have lost loved ones especially folks with chronic diseases and in nursing homes.  The inconsistencies of governmental bodies and the resultant confusion and resentment have only made matter worse.  Normal social society has been shut down by social distancing and contagion.  Millions have become unemployed and many lost their health care along with this. Many businesses have shut down and are not coming back.

For the Church, we have not faced a crisis like this since the Flu Epidemic following the First World War.  Churches and worship together have been shut down.  Normal Christian fellowship and support are on hold. Clergy have had to curtail normal pastoral care. The essential truth in our 79 Prayer Book that Communion is the normative worship of the Church on Sundays, is now something of a memory.

As all know, our leadership has been forced to experiment and offer worship, fellowship and education via Zoom, Facebook, and other on-line platforms.  Many older clergy just learning how to update a website have been challenged to enter this now area of public life called virtual.  In short, a community symbolized by receiving a sacred meal together and offering one another in the most intimate of ways the Lord’s Peace has had all that is familiar taken from us.  Many of our members are bereft of what has comforted them and grieving for the Church they have known their whole lives.

Another part of the challenge is that as a community of faith that accepts reason and science as part of who we are, our leadership has clearly wanted to demonstrate that we are not like those "other" Christians who magically believe that their faith will protect them from this disease.  But the challenge before us is communicating the place of faith while so many aspects of that faith are restricted.

The Hope

It is amazing to see how many of our leaders have taken on the challenge of finding ways to relate on-line and to provide worship and teaching using media. What had been a minor option for churches except for a few of our younger leaders, is now the norm.  I have visited many churches via Facebook and Zoom, attended seminars, and maintained classes using these resources. I am astonished at the creativity of so many of our clergy.  Most heartening is the experience of new people connecting with local congregations solely through on-line offerings.

What is most hopeful in all this underlies these steps.  Once the Church entered on-line life, we entered the world of younger and non-churched people.  Remember from my last Blog that Millennials are now the largest generation in America and are less than 10% churched.  Their view of much of Christianity has been formed by mostly conservative, fundamentalist, and Pentecostals via cable.  Now the wider Church is active among them.  And we are hearing them and beginning to answer their questions.  Although I am still waiting for an on-line apologetics series that answers the questions millennials are really asking and not the ones we older folks think they should be asking!

Many congregational leaders are now discussing how they plan to continue to use this connection with younger and newer people post the coronavirus.  Put bluntly, we have entered a new world with new resources to reach people who would never have stepped into a church before this crisis.  Of course, we should have done this. Of course, there were voices of some who pointed in this direction, but contentment with the way things were combined with the status quo of believing that welcoming people when they visited was enough for our future, has now completely changed.

Lastly, let me point out that many of our clergy are learning that simply reading morning or evening prayer on-line is not the best use of a largely visual media.  Decades ago, prophetic leaders like George Hunter were pointing out that the “new barbarians” (meaning the unchurched) were like the old ones (think Celts) more visual then auditory, sensate than cerebral, and more narrative that objective. We are now, thanks to this crisis and these challenges more prepared for the task of reaching these new people.

In my next Blog, I will talk about the virus of poverty and racism that the coronavirus has brought before all of us.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Crisis, Challenge, and Hope for the Church

 Blog 1 Generational Change

Welcome to my Blog Series on the serious challenges before the Episcopal Church and the hope I see for our future.  Each Blog will start with one of the Crisis we face, then the Challenge before us, and finally my reason for hope. While a Crisis can bring challenges, it can also bring opportunities, and this is what I will be discussing over the next two months. 

Do me a favor, if you find this interesting, forward the Blog address to a friend or colleague.  I would like to open this Blog to others especially ordained and lay leaders. 

Crisis Number One:

The Generational Shift of the last 20 years has led to a major decline in our membership, attendance, and number of congregations. Since 2000, we have lost over half our membership and while some of this is the result of conflict in the early 2000s, most of it is due to the loss of the G.I. Generation and our failure to reach the Millennial Generation and Generation Z. 

Challenge Number One:

We most abandoned methods, strategies, and structures that are only contributing to our decline while finding new ways to reach new and younger people and establishing new communities of faith while also revitalizing older ones.

Insanity can best be described as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results!  I learned this truth as a member of Al-Anon.  Nothing illustrates the trap of addiction better than this statement.  It also describes a great deal of failed human behavior both on the personal and community level.

For thirty years, I have taught leadership to clergy and lay leaders mostly in the Episcopal Church.  During the last 20 years, I sadly have watched this decline. Ironically, I see much of the Church and its leaders operating as those nothing much has changed. There seems to be a communal resolution that nothing can be done about our declining numbers. Meanwhile much of our leadership continues to operate our churches, dioceses, and denominational organizations as if nothing has changed.  Nothing reflects this more than the size of General Convention, its cost, and its elaborate organizational structure. We are living, quite frankly, with a great amount of denial.

Put bluntly, much of our Church is stuck. Across the whole spectrum of the Church, I see leaders and members doing the same things over and over and wondering why they keep getting the same results.  The truth is that many of the structures of our community come from the era of the 1960s when the Church was at its largest both in numbers and percentage of the population, and in the mid-1960s, the Church began, like all mainline denominations, to decline. 

The fact that all these denominations started declining at the same time tells us that this is not a uniquely Episcopal problem. It is a consequence of changes in our society and culture.  I like to mark 1965 as the tipping point from the long-standing Protestant Era of American society toward the emergence of secular society.  That process is on-going, and in the last two decades has been accelerated in our time by the loss of the GI Generation and the emergence of the Millennials.  The GI Generation with its Church membership of 60% and its Church denominational loyalty provided a stable church membership in the U.S. of around 40%. Then starting in 2000, those numbers began to drop. In 2019 it fell to 20% as the Millennials, who are less than 10% churched and are now the largest generation began replacing what Tom Brokaw called rightly, “the greatest generation.”

This generational and social change also brought a secular view to society often at odds with traditional Christian values.  All mainline denominations have faced tension and conflict as they either tried to resist these changes or adapt to them.  This two has contributed to church decline.  Simply said, people do not join churches to experience conflict.  As one young church leader said to me as she was leaving her local church in Houston, “Look Canon Kevin, if I wanted conflict in my life, I could just go home and visit my parents!”  People look to the church to provide an alternative to our painful experiences in family and society.

The Hope

Fortunately, I have been privileged to work with leaders who have made a difference during this decline.  All over the church, I have found committed and dedicated women and men, clergy and lay, who love the Lord of the Church and his Community.  What I have found and what gives me hope for the future is that leaders can make a difference even in what we see has become the New Normal of the Church in 2020.  This series of blogs is written out of my experience with working with such leaders and the fact that I know that other leaders, future leaders, can learn to make a difference.

My first hope in all this are the younger clergy leaders of our community. I often say that when I want to despair, I think of my generation of clergy. When I want to be uplifted and hopeful, I think of the younger clergy that I have met and with whom I have worked.  This is especially true of the emerging Millennial Generation clergy.  These new leaders share much of the optimism of their fellow unchurched generation and their belief that they can make a difference.

My hope also rests in everything that I am learning about the Millennials. For example, we boomer leaders of the church have talked a great deal about becoming a diverse community.  Most of this obviously has been just talk. Except for our inclusiveness of women in leadership and the welcoming of many with gender differences, we remain over 85% a white community.  Yet, Millennials live and work in the wider diverse community.  They do not accept the exclusion of others based on gender or race as normative.

Millennial leaders of the Church know the hopes of their generation, and they also understand their spiritual needs.  They have a much greater concern for the environment and the care of creation.  They understand the need for individual and community stewardship of our world.  They also want a fairer and more just society. They often seek a spiritual life and community, but they do not want a Church stuck in excluding others either consciously or unconsciously. 

I also see hope in places in the Church that are leading the changes that we need so desperately.  One of these signs occurred when a friend of mine passed along “The New Normal.”  This was a report shared by the Diocese of Connecticut to its clergy and congregational leadership marking a major shift in the way things would be done.  This paper appeared even before the Coronavirus.  The paper pointed out that change had to happen.  While it primarily focused on how clergy would be recruited and called to serve Connecticut congregations, it pointed out the absurdity of continuing to pretend that things have not changed and continuing with the strategies of the past, doing the same thing and expecting different results, was foolish. 

Another sign of hopefulness came when I retired and moved back into the Diocese of Texas where I had served as Canon Mission throughout the 90s for Bishop Claude Payne.  I found that under the creative leadership of Bishop Andrew Doyle, the diocese had made a major new initiative in Church Planting and Congregational Revitalization.  This Diocese created the Iona School to train clergy and lay leaders for the church in places where the traditional model of a seminary trained full-time ordained person cannot work.  Other Dioceses are now making use of the Iona model. The increase in the number of smaller churches while the actual number of churches is declining cries out for this kind of work.  

The Diocese of Texas has also taken the initiative to plant new communities to reach new especially younger people.  These new community plants are aimed more at people than the old model aimed at geographical boundaries.  Some have grown into self-supporting churches while others remain focused on building community, the kind of Beloved Community presented by our current Presiding Bishop. Models for hope and change are emerging and ironically the almost overwhelming challenges of 2020 are also creating the motivation for change that can help overcome our stuck ways of doing things.

Lasty, let me say more about our President Bishop.  Best known outside our Church by “the wedding sermon” he preached for Harry and Megan. Bishop Curry speaks of the Way of Love that is compelling to those outside our community.  Yet, the steps of this Way of Jesus, the Way of Love, as he breaks it down is rooted in the deep well of spirituality that has guided the Church through past generations and past crisis.  Every time that I hear him speak, I find encouragement and hope.  This message needs to be taken up more on the local level especially as we reach out to these younger generations.

In my next blog, I will explore another crisis that is before us; the pandemic and what it has revealed about the great disparities in our so-called land of plenty.  We will look at the coronavirus and the virus of racism and poverty.  Even in this crisis and its challenges, there are signs of hope.                                                          


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Altering Theological Education for the New Normal

People who hear me teach on leadership and congregational development often comment “Why didn’t I learn this in seminary or Why don’t they teach this in seminary?”  You may be astonished to learn that I do not think either of these two topics should be taught in Seminary.  In this blog, I will offer my take on how Theological Education should be altered for the New Normal. What I mean by “the New Normal” is the Church that has lost half its membership since 2000 through the death of many of the G.I. Generation, conflict, and a failure to reach members of the Millennial Generation. A Church that is, by the way, still in decline.

Let me make two things clear at the beginning of this blog. I will be talking about the 3-year residential programs, and I will set aside the alternate training that is taking place through programs like the Iona School.  I see these latter as especially important for the future of the Church, but not the subject of this blog.

Second, many of our Seminaries have pickup up on the need for better preparation of our ordained people in leading parishes and many are now advertising that they are training future leaders for the Episcopal Church.  This, of course, has more to do with marketing than reality.  I find these claims to be of little value, and I have low expectations that the current curriculum has really been altered to do this.  Even stronger, let me say that it is unrealistic to believe that a faculty of academics could even value or imagine what this would really be.

What I do think Seminaries are about is helping form academically and professionally the character and intellectual foundation of future leaders.  Said simply, we already expect too much from our seminaries.  As Will Spong once said, “Every time General Convention meets, we have a new class mandated to teach.”  In other words, the rush to be relevant has created unrealistic expectations for our seminaries.

What about leadership itself?  I strongly believe that the Church should train its ordained leaders and that this is a post-seminary task best started in the first five years of ministry.  The reason is based on my experience with teaching clergy and having taught at Seminaries.  Clergy learn leadership best in the field as they attempt to give leadership. For most Seminarians, clergy leadership is essentially not on their radar screen.  And congregational development is beyond comprehension.  Put this together with the bias many academics have about what they see as the mundaneness of “Pastoral Theology” and you see the issue.

What is clear to those of us who work with clergy is that the context of having to lead and working with congregational leaders creates a tremendous opportunity for learning and development.  I commend Robert Lewis’ Curacy Express” for the practical application of this in the Church. So, from my perspective of working for 30 years with clergy, what alterations would I most like to see in Seminary.  There are two of them.

First, I would make Seminary more of an oral experience.  I would ask the professors to base grades on material that is half, at least, presented orally.  Instead of paper reports, I would like to see students prepared to give a 20 to 30-minute presentation (PowerPoint would be allowed) on say Pauline Theology or the English Reformation, or the Torah and the Early Church.

Then I would make preaching a three-year part of the curriculum. The first year would focus on the basics of sermon preparation and the second year on the effect communication of the Gospel. The third year would be the practice of preaching in class and chapel.  Let me add that when students do the third year, they will receive evaluations that weigh equally the content of the sermon and the effectiveness of the delivery.

Why would I do this?  Because parish ministry is primarily an oral vocation.  When parishioners ask questions of clergy, it is almost always in the context of communicating orally. Yes, I did articles for the Parish Newsletter occasionally, but most work in a parish is done orally.  When it comes to preaching, I have observed that many newly ordained clergy are making two fundamental mistakes; they are reading their sermons and their content reveals that they are preaching to their seminary professors.  When I say this to clergy, several will push back on how important it is to write out their sermons to make sure they are theologically correct.  Writing out a sermon in preparation is fine but reading them is a big mistake.  The rules for oral communication are different from written communication. Bishop John Coburn never got in a pulpit without a manuscript in front of him and he was an excellent preacher, but he practiced the delivery and memorized the text.  Preaching is an oral experience!

Here is the greatest compliment someone who preaches from a manuscript will ever get. “Thanks, Mthr. Jane, you preached that just like you weren’t reading it.”  Let me add that what we have learned in the live-streaming and YouTube experience during the epidemic is that nothing is more deadly than reading via a visual media!

Second, I would make half of the assignments in seminary classes a group exercise, yes even in the most academic course.  Imagine that Professor Jones is assigning a project or paper on the Baptismal service of the 1979 Prayer Book. Now, the professor announces, the first task group will be Bill, Jane, Maryann, and Elijah.  Both Elijah and Maryann immediately roll their eyes.  They are thinking how being stuck with two of the poorer students in the class will affect their grade.  My answer, “Welcome to Parish Ministry.”  Parish ministry is never a solo clergy operation.  It always involves working with lay leaders and members.  In traditional academic environment, the emphasis is on the individual’s performance and their grade.  In the Church, the effectiveness of one’s leadership and the health and wellbeing of the parish is about us.  It is a drastic difference.  It often takes several years for newly ordained clergy to realize this. The reason it takes so long is that they must first unlearn the method of seminary preparation.

How can leadership then be taught?  Many Dioceses already have examples of this through effective curacy programs, mentorships, and continuing education. This part is being driven by necessity. Seminaries have even contributed to this by the creation of D. Min programs focused more on the practice of ministry for post-seminary. 

I wrote this blog because the adjustment and alteration of basic seminary education has changed little since 1968 when I went to seminary. While more classes have been added, the method remains the same. This is because it is being controlled by those not prepared for parish ministry but for the academic community.  In a society that continues to have only about 1/3 of its people with a college education, these academic assumptions only contribute to a growing distance between the Church and society; clergy and their parishioners.  The New Normal demands something different!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The New Normal and Revitalizing Churches

     My last blog centered on the Diocese of Connecticut’s paper and strategy called The New Normal.  In it I called attention to the fact that 2/3rds of their congregations can no longer afford the services of full-time clergy. Another way of saying this is that formerly larger congregations have declined into Family Size churches and the typical strategy for maintaining these is often placing a bi-vocational or retired clergy person in these situations. This situation is made more dire in Connecticut because many of these once larger churches have property and buildings more suited to a larger congregation with larger budgets. We should face that all this is a crisis, but it is the kind of long-term crisis that dioceses usually react to rather than respond.  Connecticut is trying to respond.

     A further complicating factor for this Diocese is that bi-vocational, part-time, and retired clergy are not likely to move to the church’s community to serve them.  Not only is this a problem in recruitment, it is a further expansion of these churches’ essential dilemma, how are they to even maintain themselves in this situation?
Put along side these issues the growing clergy shortage and you have the perfect storm for the future.  The Diocese of Connecticut is rightly concerned and in my last blog, I talked about the creative ways they are attending to the churches that can at least afford a full-time clergy.

     This allows me to comment on the increasingly failed strategy of the wider church in addressing the basic problem of how to carry out revitalization for these smaller congregations and even grow them.  Lets even put this for a moment in the wider issue of evangelization.  The communities in the US are simply becoming more unchurches especially as the Millennial Generation replaces the GI Generation. The former generation is less than 10% churched and the latter were over 60% churched. Bishop Doyle of the Diocese of Texas calls this the Tsunami of Death. It has driven the decline of church membership in North American from a predictable 40% after World War Two until 2000 to the 2019 figure of 20%!

     The first thing that we should say, and mission people have been saying this for decades, is that evangelism in a post-Christian society is different from that of either a pre-Christian society (where Anglicanism is growing fastest) or a Christendom model where denominations are basically recruiting new members.
So, ironically there are more unchurched and non-Christians living all around us making the target for evangelization larger, but we are reaching fewer of them which contributes to our decline.  For me, Connecticut’s situation highlights all these issues.  What is to be done?

     The first thing that I think church leaders should acknowledge in all this is that a strategy that is primarily maintenance directed is doomed to failure!  What I saw during my year traveling about Oklahoma and talking to leaders of town parishes is that a part-time clergy person seldom ever leads a church to revitalization and growth.  The frequent changes in clergy serving these situations often leads to further decline. 

     The second thing I think church leaders should acknowledge and even rejoice in is that some clergy and small churches have figured this out.  We do have examples all over the church of such churches not only surviving but also finding healthier life and growth.  Bishop Doyle said to me that at the beginning of his Episcopacy he thought that many of these smaller congregations would just close, but what he found is that given some support many find a way to hold together.  The question, of course, is what do these revitalizing congregations and their ordained leaders know that the rest of us do not?  I like to ask the even more obvious question as a church consultant, why not let these leaders both lay and clergy train those sent to these congregations?  Truth is that many of these leaders are outliers and not used as resources.

     Third thing I think church leaders should do is develop a plan for the revitalization of these congregations that uses proven strategies. As I said, most diocesan leadership see such congregations as a problem to solve and solve them by attempting to put part-time clergy in these to maintain what already exists. Must of what the Diocese of Texas does now is based on its former Bishop Claude Payne’s understanding that revitalization involves a series of steps by a Diocese. These would include:

a.        1. Learning what congregations have a readiness for revitalization and targeting them.

b.     2. Recruiting the right clergy person and backing them in their placement.

c.      3. Identifying the key lay leadership to give stable direction to the parish which often means keeping the same wardens and vestry in place for 3 to 5 years. (Rotating leadership by 1/3 each year may be a helpful strategy to keep existing and growing parishes healthy, but it is too unstable for a small congregation with limited leaders. We asked such congregations to “put the A team” in charge.)

d.     4, Revitalization often takes place in a church with limited budget and resources and declining facilities with deferred maintenance. This means that the Diocese needs to invest in such parishes to refresh its facilities.

e.      5. All this means that there must be a group of local leaders and diocesan leaders to oversee this work and to hold each other accountable 

     Knowing all this, I not only commended the Diocesan leadership of Connecticut, but also recommended that they learn from places like Texas to do the above.

     In summary, when it comes to revitalizing these declining congregations let those who have done it teach others, use proven strategies, and form a healthy partnership between the Diocese and local leaders all of whom work off the same play book.

     Imagine a Mission Training Center dedicated to such work at a time like this and you have imagined a healthier and growing Episcopal Church.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The New Normal

The Diocese of Connecticut is one of the most venerable of the Church.  It elected the first Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Samuel Seabury, shortly after the Revolutionary War.  Seabury was a Tory like many of his fellow Anglicans in New England where they faced stiff persecution by their congregationalist neighbors.  Seabury was a traditionalist and set the tone for the Diocese.  When I attended Berkeley Divinity School in New Haven, I like many of my seminary classmates served my assignments to parishes in congregations in the Diocese.  I also started ordained ministry as a curate in Wilton and my first tenure as a Rector in Stamford.  During that time, the Diocese was one of the largest in the Episcopal Church.

I was very surprised when my friend and seminary classmate, Andrew Zeman, mailed me a paper that had been sent out by the Diocese entitled “Transition is the New Normal” by their Transition Officer Lee Ann Tolzmann. It outlined the Diocese’s response to the present crisis of decline in the Church.  As the title suggests, the leadership of the Diocese under their Bishop Ian Douglas are taking intentional steps to meet the challenges of the Diocese amidst this change.

I plan to focus three blogs on the issues presented in this paper.  These are all related to the demographic changes in America that are having direct effects upon the Church.  The first is that the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut (ECCT) is changing the way congregations with full-time clergy are now transitioning to new ordained leadership. The second issue is the changing demographics of ordained clergy, and if you haven’t heard of this, many baby boomer clergy will be retiring in the next five years creating a shortage.

Third is the way the ECCT plans on handling the 2/3rds of their congregations that no longer have full time clergy serving them.  Let me repeat this, the 2/3rds of the congregations of Connecticut that do not have the number of people to support full-time clergy.  My friend Andy servers one of these in retirement on a part-time basis.  All this is accentuated in ECCT because most of these congregations have long standing facilities larger than the current congregations need and face costly expenses in upkeep.

I think each of these issues deserves a blog.  I want to start with the first issue because of the creative way ECCT is facing the issue of recruiting clergy to serve effectively because the full-time positions are also being affected by the looming shortage of clergy. This will be reducing the number of candidates that will be available when transitions occur.  It is here where their strategy moves in a courageous and creative way. It is here as Lee Ann clearly writes that transition is now the new normal.

To make their case, ECCT lays out in the paper the conditions of what Bishop Douglas calls “The New Missional Age.”  I don’t have the space here to reproduce this and neither do I want to steal the Diocese’s thunder.  What is outstandingly persuasive is what they call “Landmarks in the Landscape of a New Missional Age.” They list 8, and in my opinion, the whole leadership of TEC should read these!  I will share the first one:

   “Our current model of church is being funded by the increased giving of a smaller and smaller number of people who are getting older and older.  This clearly not a sustainable model.”

Almost every Bishop and lay leaders of the Church knows this is true.  Sadly, most keep doing what they have always done, hoping for different outcomes.  This, of course, is denial, and it pervades our church community.  This is why I say that ECCT is courageous in making the changes now.

What have they changed?  Effect starting this year, when a clergy person leaves the parish, the Vestry does not form a search committee.  Instead, with the guidance of one of the two Bishops, they form a Transition Committee to help the parish face these new missional realities and to make adaptive and systemic changes to function in this new environment.  As part of the process, the Diocese will recommend a short list of clergy persons who will help the Transition Committee and the Vestries do this work. The Diocese and the Committee agree on the clergy person best equipped to lead this process in each congregation.  This clergy person becomes the Priest in Charge (PIC) for three years.  After that period, if the leadership and the PIC are making these missional changes, the Vestry may, with the Bishop’s approval, call the PIC to be the Rector.

During this three-year period, the PIC works with the Transition Committee on a plan for educating the congregation on the current realities and putting together a strategic plan the future.  Some of you will recognize what is, I think, one of the best practices that some dioceses have developed.  This in the present structures is asking the Search Committee to continue as a Transition Committee to help the new clergy carry out the task around which they have been called.  The ECCT has intentionally removed the old model of search which quite frankly does meet the realities of our present situation. I wholeheartedly agree with this step and it will be key in making the new model work.

I also like a couple of other elements in this plan.  For example, the PIC meets monthly with a peer group and coordinator in support of this work.  I applaud making the Bishop and Diocese a partner in the transitional work.  I support the idea that the Diocese takes an active hand in recruiting the possible PIC people.  Given the looming shortage of clergy, this is a necessity for the parish to find good quality ordained leadership who understand the task before them.  In other words, or at least my words, don’t start this process with a clergy person who is skilled in operating a model that we know will not work. 

Four times during my 9 years with Bishop Payne, he intervened in congregations in a similar way, two of them were quite large.  All faced a crisis just before they were to start the transition to a new Rector.  Bishop Payne approached the Vestries and told them that he did not believe they were able to make the best decision about a clergy person for the future, nor did they have the typical time given their crisis.  He offered to them a Rector in Charge who he had selected for them to interview.  In all four situations, the parishes took the person offered and later called them to become the tenured Rector.  In every situation, the Vestry leadership gave us feedback that the Bishop was right and that it became obvious over time what this person was the best leader for the future.  That was, of course, back in the 1990s before the dramatic demographic changes of the beginning of the 21st Century had taken place.

Let me observe that the Bishop and Diocese acting in this more directive way brings TEC more into line with the way things are done in most of the Anglican Communion.  Imagine Bishops acting as if she or he has oversight! This is what the original word Bishop meant.

As I close this first blog, let me share that I am encouraging Lee Ann and the Diocese to make their paper and actions available to the wider church.  In my next blog, I will share their understanding of the looming clergy crisis before the Church.  Let me end with Landmark #2

“Formerly successful models are not helpful.  Trying to do what we’ve always done, even in new improved versions is not the answer when the whole world is changing. And it is not a faithful response to the God of resurrection’s call to move towards a new life. “

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2020 and the Tsunami of Death

In the mid 90s, the Diocese of Texas hosted an annual series of gatherings named The Clear Vision Conference.  Eventually, three other Dioceses joined us as sponsors.  The audience was leaders of the Episcopal Church and especially Bishops and leaders of Dioceses.  These conferences built upon Bishop Claude Payne’s vision for the Diocese of Texas, One Church United in Mission and its goal to increase the membership and attendance of the Diocese.  In the last few years, the Join Commission of General Convention on Evangelism would hold its annual meeting at these conferences and from it they put forth a bold challenge to the Church.  It came to be known as the 2020 Vision; to double the size of the Episcopal from 2000 to 2020.  I was honored to be one of the members.  This idea began to gain momentum and received the support of the Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold and the President of the House of Deputies, Dean George Werner.

In order to give this proposal a strategic plan, a diverse group of eight Episcopal Leaders were appointed to write out such a strategy.  This was presented to the wider Church via the Episcopal Church Executive Counsel, and although there was a concerted effort from some of the members to stop this proposal seeing it as “an evangelical wooden horse,” the work was extended to a much wider and even more diverse Commission (66 members) to write out specific resolutions to the 2003 General Convention.  Almost 20 resolutions were produced by this group that had considerable range. Only two of these resolutions ever made the floor of that General Convention.

As every Episcopal leader knows, these resolutions were put on hold as the General Convention debated the place of Gay and Lesbians via the election of Canon Gene Robinson to be Bishop.  To a large extent, the current situation for TEC is largely still occupied over the resulting fracture of our denomination and the efforts to reimage the Church as a primarily diverse and inclusive Christian body.

It is now 2020.  I have heard people on both the conservative and progressive sides of the Church laugh about the 2020 goal, but the momentum was genuine and by 2000 many Dioceses had benefited by putting into action information learned at the Clear Vision Conferences.  An unknown fact is that from 1995 to 2000, The Episcopal Church was the only mainline denomination showing growth in both Baptized Membership and attendance.  There was reason to be hopeful although even those of us on the Commission saw actually doubling our size as a very bold and even audacious goal.

So where is TEC now?  We have done the opposite of the 2020 goal and are about half the size we were in 2000.  And we continue to decline.  While it is clear to everyone that the conflict in the aftermath of the vote on Gene Robinson was a major factor in this decline, but it was not the only one.  In this blog I want to talk about the other major factor that has affected all denominations and is still affecting TEC.

The second major factor that is still affecting us, is what Bishop Dole of Texas recently called “the Tsunami of Death.”  By this he is referring to the lost of most of the GI Generation.  This Generation that Tom Brokaw rightly called “the Greatest Generation” were forged in the furnace of the Great Depression and World War II.  These forces produced a remarkable community of leaders in the US both in the wider society and the Church.  This generation was 60% Churched.  As they are passing from this world, they are being replaced by the Millennial Generation and the following one that are 10% or less Churched.  Since Church membership in the US had remained consistent after WWII till 2000 at between 40 and 44%, it isn’t hard to do the math.  Remove the GI folks and add in the Millennials!

In fact, I projected back in 2000 that if we did nothing but hold our current membership, this demographic destiny would be two-fold.  First, by 2020 Church Membership in North American would drop to about 20%. We reached this in 2019.  Second, the two largest Christian bodies in the US would be the Roman Catholic Church and a largely conservative group of churches called “Evangelicals.”  This is exactly what has happened.  And it has happened despite the RC scandals and the highly published support of some prominent, but by no means all, Evangelicals leaders of President Trump.

I like to add, that it is interesting that both these two Christian groups tend to hold the same values regarding social issues in our society.  This should serve as a warning that merely accepting the wider more secular views of society would allow a denomination to grow.  This is reinforced during this shifting demographic because the former mainline have now become the sideline of American Christianity statistically speaking.  One need only remember the famous prediction by one of our Bishops that the consent to Gene Robinson’s election would open the door to hundreds of thousands of new church members.

This, by the way, wasn’t a great insight on my part, but rather information that I had gleaned from Lyle Schaller and other leading consultants and teachers in the America.  And here is the critical point in all this.  Even given the decisions and actions of the past, how is TEC doing in reaching the two newer generations in America.  Despite all our language about inclusiveness and our efforts to make ourselves relatable to current social values in North America, with very few exceptions, we like most of the rest of Christian denominations, are failing terrible at this task.  Even Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are, with very few exceptions, failing at this task.

I am also suggesting that even if we had not had division in TEC, we were after all a relatively small denomination even back in 2000, we would today still be faced with this most overwhelming challenge.  In my next blog, I will begin to hint at some actions that we could take to change this, but for now, let me close with this observation.

Is the Christian Church failing to reach the next generations here in North American because we are focused on the wrong things and are largely indifferent to the spiritual needs and aspirations of these next Generations?  Whether you stand on the right or the left (or somewhere else entirely) in the Church today, the evidence seems to be overwhelming pointing us to these sad truths!