I ask the forgiveness of those readers who usually come to this blog because of its standard avoidance of “politics” and the “news” as such. However, things are happening which compel me to say something, however small and insignificant my station and influence may be.
Feast of St. Philip and St. James 2012
“For this put on sackcloth, lament and wail…” – Jeremiah 4:8
“Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar. Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God!” – Joel 1:3
Bishops, Priest, Deacons, Venerable Monastics, Deputies, and all those appointed to serve at General Convention,
Christ is Risen!
It is not long before you all gather to take council on behalf of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion in this country, and such is the reason for my letter. I am a convert to the Episcopal Church, and my love for this Church and the Anglican Tradition is of immense proportions, but the path we are treading seems to be leading suspiciously away from beliefs and practices that have shaped, defined, and refined the Church of Jesus since the time of the Apostles. For the sake of Christ’s Church and the Gospel of Jesus, I beg you to reconsider.
We have been in a steady, and now precipitous, decline for nearly 50 years. Rather than pull back the reins, pause, reflect, and consider, we have dug in the spurs and whipped it up. I have almost no doubt that we can expect more “prophetic actions” forthcoming, though the prophecy they speak to the world may be, “Do not go this way. It leads to death.”
According to The Barna Group, nearly one in three Episcopalian marriages ends in divorce. We aren’t taking care of the marriages we’ve got, and yet we are preparing (very controversially) to redefine and reconfigure the ancient custom.
We are barely able to get one in three of our baptized members to communion on any given Sunday (probably lower if you took out Easter and Christmas), and yet we are going to consider making communion available to those who have never been baptized in contravention of nearly two millennia of unbroken, uninterrupted Church teaching. We, apparently, can’t even get our baptized membership to take the Eucharist more seriously than soccer, spring break, fishing, and football!
In a so-called spirit of hospitality, clergy in almost every diocese flaunt the canons of this Church and their ordination vows by offering communion to the unbaptized. The bishops are either ignorant of the conditions in their own diocese, unwilling to do anything to bring integrity and order to the parishes, or are sympathetic to this disregard for the established and agreed upon regulations by which we order our common life. Any of those three would be a tragedy, and we’ve probably got all three going on in some measure.
We seem unable to get our own children to go to church and grow into faithful, mature Christians in any meaningful numbers, yet we have the audacity to issue a resolution to the President of the United States regarding the Middle East Peace Process or a resolution calling for statehood of the District of Columbia. The hubris of this would almost be laughable if I weren’t already on the verge of tears.
We are spending millions of dollars a year to sue other Christians in direct contradiction of the clear teaching of Holy Scripture under the guise of “fiduciary responsibility.” Since when did fiduciary responsibilities take precedence over issues of faithfulness, love, forgiveness, and mercy? I suppose Jesus’ words, “If anyone would take your tunic, give them your cloak as well” were obviously for a different cultural context, and could hardly be expected to have any bearing on our present difficulties.
In the meantime, very little is spent on missionary work to the unreached peoples of the earth, and we are reducing or cutting programs aimed at poverty, illiteracy, and environmental care. Dozens of parishes are closed every year for lack of monetary resources, yet there seems to be an endless supply of those resources for litigation. And as far the planting of new parishes in this country? Virtually non-existent.
I grow weary when stories about what “neat” or “outside-the-box” ministry St. Such-and-such parish is doing in light of all this are predictably trotted out. While I applaud their individual efforts they are far from paradigmatic, and are simply exceptions that prove the rule. If sincere worship, constant prayer, meaningful evangelism, and life-long discipleship were actually the facts on the ground, we would not be in this position.
What we do seem to have is a bumper crop of bishops and priests who want to be prophets, but do not want to be bishops and priests (except that it helps them to be prophetic). We have clergy and laity who love to tinker with the liturgy, but are woefully or willfully ignorant of Scripture, Patristics, and the Anglican Reformers… the very wellsprings and sources of our Faith and Tradition. We have hundreds of parishes with interfaith services and not a few with the actual prayer services to other deities or from other faith traditions, but precious few that offer the daily offices on a daily basis.
And what has all this gotten us? We have succeeded in very little other than bringing great disrepute upon the Gospel of our Lord and we are shrinking at a calamitous rate and spending millions of dollars a year in the effort. We have effectively collapsed our Ecumenical Dialogs and put them on tenuous ground for the rest of the communion. There was a time when the world thought the Anglicans would lead the charge in the reunification of the Church catholic. That time has passed. We are a byword among the nations, and a laughingstock among the peoples. If you we haven’t realized that, it is because we only spend time with other self-congratulating Episcopalians. We are shrinking at a rate of roughly a diocese per year. And rather than saying, “Whoa there! Something is wrong. This road doesn’t lead where we thought it did.” We seem to be saying instead, “ONWARD!” Again, such silliness and poor decision making would be funny if it weren’t so expensive and if it weren’t wreaking such havoc on this Church, the Gospel of Jesus, and the spiritual life of its members.
I am begging you simply to stop! STOP! Don’t do anything. We are on the verge of committing spiritual and institutional suicide, and further alienating our brothers and sisters in Christ of every sort… Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. Don’t do it. Nothing would please me more than if the 2012 General Convention went down in history as the “Do Nothing Convention.” As a matter of fact, for probably the next three General Conventions we should do nothing but gather together (as cheaply as possible), fast, and pray for mercy and guidance. That’s it. No resolutions. No lobbying. No “prophetic voice.” No covenant. No restructuring. Simply repentance and prayer for the dismal state of our church.
If General Convention 2012 continues down our presently disordering, divisive, and destructive path and then proceeds to issue irrationally celebratory press releases with the attendant back–slapping and high-fiving, I will almost certainly be reduced to tears.
“Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” – Joel 2:17
With all sincerity,
Jason Ballard — Austin, TX
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