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.

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