My dream for Episcopal Church growth.

One of the most striking things I noticed about mainline denominations when I started exploring them is how opposed they are to proselytizing. Religion often seems to be an almost tribal reality for many of them. Wanting other people to be a part of your faith is okay, but actually going out there and asking others to be part of your denomination? Distasteful.

This attitude has crippled many a Church in the secular age we now live in. Not least the Episcopal Church. I sometimes feel like I’m jumping onto a sinking ship with captain and crew not sure whether to jump ship, fix the damage, or proceed as if nothing is wrong.

But I dream of the day when the Holy Spirit will fill our hearts with fire, and we’ll gladly join him in harvesting in the fields of hurting humanity. I long for the day that the best of who we are as the Episcopal Church will become known.

Right now, I would like to see, in my lifetime, the Episcopal Church become 1 percent of the population in the territory covered by every one of it’s diocese. Now this might not seem like an ambitious dream. After all, that’s only 4.6 million members out of a population of roughly 460 million in the territories covered by the Episcopal Church. But the Episcopal Church today is only 2 million members total. Only 1.8 million and shrinking in the US. 

Staunching the flow of souls out of the Episcopal Church and energizing it in the next 25 years to double in size everywhere seems to be an almost impossible task. But it is not a hopeless one, it’s not even an unfamiliar one.
When the Episcopal Church was founded in 1789, it was seen by some as a pipe dream. The end of British rule seemed to mean and end to Anglican religion in the nascent US. Throughout its history, Anglicanism in the 13 colonies had been living on life support, with no bishops, a paucity of well trained clergy, and inherited hostility from people who were previously or currently being persecuted by the Church of England. 

The years before and during the Revolution also brought with them great cultural change, notably the evangelical Great awakening which drew many nominal Anglicans into Methodist and Baptist churches and a moralist and skepticism that echoes the attitudes of our current age.

Into this maelstrom comes our Church, already considered to be dying and discredited by most who observed it. But as more and more Episcopalians committed themselves to evangelism in the ensuing decades, the Episcopal Church grew. By 1839, most would have been shocked by how close they had come to not existing.

In light of this history, I know that what seems impossible to mankind is never impossible to God. So I’m going to keep on dreaming big dreams for the Episcopal Church. And with his help, they’ll come true.

Eternal God, giver of love and power, your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world to preach the gospel of his kingdom: confirm us in this mission, and help us to live the good news we proclaim; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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History of Hope in the Episcopal Church. 

I’m currently reading one of the classics of Episcopal Church history, “Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church”, and am struck by the power, simplicity, piety, and orthodoxy of the first generations of Episcopal clergy and bishops. This history features people like Alex Viets Griswold, Benjamin Moore, Philander Chase, Charles Pettit McIlvaine, John Henry Hobart, all so singularly committed to spreading the Gospel, making disciples, and building up the Episcopal Church according to the Scriptures and the Creeds. 

What’s most encouraging to me about what I’m reading is that these people of such passionate and committed Christian faith in the Episcopal Church were coming of age and into ministry at a time when the Episcopal Church seemed on the verge of extinction.Based on where the Episcopal Church was in 1790, the idea that it would still exist in 1840 seemed something of a pipe dream. But personal commitment by faithful individuals to being faithful Anglicans in America was able to reverse the trajectory and bring about steady growth in our communion that lasted a century and a half.

So, I’m encouraged and inspired. I’m also challenged. When reading the story of the early Diocese of Virginia, it seemed like that Church was dead. Few communicants, fewer clergy, and a culture where the church  seemed to exist for rich skeptics debating whether God existed or Christianity was ultimately a force for good (sound familiar?).  

But the church was kept alive through the personal faithfulness of the laity and a commitment to personal and family devotions centered around the study of Scripture and the Prayer Book. It took over a decade of patient and faithful devotion but it eventually succeeded. 

If we as Episcopalians commit ourselves and our families to strong spiritual and devotional lives centered on “the teaching of the Apostles and…the prayers”, we have a great chance to see our history return in the near future.

What to do with this WordPress?

So I’m a pretty bad blogger because I’m not a very good journal writer. Some people are great about posting content, but I often fall behind, especially on this blog, lol. I’d like to do more though, which leads me to this post.

This new year is the third year that I’ve been an Episcopalian, second officially through confirmation, and the 2nd anniversary of my Relationship with my Husband-to-be Corban. It’s also the 200th Anniversary of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio and the 500th of the Protestant Reformation and Luther’s 95 Theses.

In honor of all this, I’d like to change the focus of this blog to one about Early Episcopalianism and Classical Anglicanism in the Episcopal Church today with emphasis on the Protestant and Reformed nature of these churches. I’ll try to post about 3 times a week with quotes from Anglican Churchmen, reflections on books I’m reading, and my journey as a black,gay,Classical Episcopalian within today’s Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. 
I’ll try to post about my own personal issues and politics as well, just to add a little variety.

“One thing thou lackest…” Racial Understanding in the Episcopal Church.

This may seem a strange title. But it comes from an experience I’ve recently been pondering about the question of race relations in the Episcopal Church.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending my first Diocesan Convention for the Diocese of Ohio. I was there to help my parish historian setup and man a display tables on our local chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians, and the table for the Commission on Racial Understanding. From time to time I’d stick my head into the proceedings, sometimes lingering for an hour or so before going back out to watch our displays and talk to passersby about the UBE poster boards. And on one of those occasions, I happened to be present for the discussion facilitated by the Commission on Racial Understanding.

The question before us was how we could promote Racial Understanding in the Diocese of Ohio. And their were a lot of interesting suggestions from my fellow conventioneers. One person suggested shutting down racist talk at the Thanksgiving Dinner Table. Someone else suggested that the Office of the Bishop send someone over from the Diocese to each parish and facilitate further discussions on the subject of race. Someone else proposed that local parishes enter into dialogue with the “local baptist church” to get to know what Black people really think.

These suggestions and the others I heard that day struck me as very…Episcopalian. Quite well meaning, but perhaps slightly missing the point. Because the question that I had as I heard these suggestions coming in was: How can you enter into deeper racial understanding if you don’t have anyone to talk to? And if you have to go talk to your “local baptist church” to find enough black people in your parish to talk to about race relations, doesn’t that reflect poorly on diversity in our Diocese and our Church?

And there lies the rub for me. There are few Denominations that I’ve seen that are more fully committed to Racial Justice in the US then the Episcopal Church. We are almost always in the trenches, always trying to conform ourselves and our members to high standards of sensitivity, awareness, and activism regarding matters of race in the wider socio-economic context in which we live. But we lack one thing: Black People.

African-Americans make up only 6% of Episcopalian membership in the USA according to a 2013 report from the Office of Black Ministries. Predominantly African-Americans are to be found primarily in 5 diocese on the East Coast. We are 13% of the US population as a whole. To reach that lowly percentage in our Church, the number of Black people in the Episcopal Church would have to more than double.

But these are just statistics. For me as an African-American man who will soon be confirmed into the Diocese of Ohio and the wider Episcopal Church, I sometimes wonder why Evangelism, and by this I mean seeking new members is such a no-no in our denomination. I question the commitment of my Church to Racial Justice and Racial understanding when many of the places where the Episcopal Church exists, yet refuses to ask people to join, are metropolitan areas where the surrounding population is heavily African-American.

Now this is how I feel. I’m well aware that the modern Episcopalian reticence to engage others and ask them to become Episcopalian is predicated on a number of considerations and concerns, race being the least of them. But this feeling, which many African-Americans in the Episcopal Church share, isn’t a widely known one because, frankly, there aren’t very many of us around to articulate and express it. Which leads us back to the issue of Racial Understanding.

If Episcopalians want to understand black people better, we have to ask them to be a part of our shared life together. As Christians, our communal life as the gathered body of Christ is the most important aspect of our shared life. It’s the place here we meet, share, work, pray, and go to God’s table of abundance to be fed together. Is there a better place for people of diverse backgrounds to engage in deeper understanding?

To many Episcopalians, the task seems daunting and perhaps a bit distasteful. Deep in the back of their minds, some may wonder if inviting others to join our Church might be nothing but an unwelcome annoyance to black people. They fear getting rejected or having uncomfortable conversations. Others may wonder if there’s anything to offer the African-American community.

To the first concern I say yes, you’ll get rejected sometimes, and you’ll have uncomfortable and awkward conversations and situations come up when you actively invite people to join your Church. But the fact is that if you don’t ask you won’t get. And if you do ask you will get. Many African-Americans are open to hearing what people tell them about God. And we’re willing to give other views a chance.  As for the second concern,Episcopalians won’t convince everyone, maybe not even most Black people. But many will be convinced by the inclusivity, passion, commitment, beauty, humility, orthodoxy, and faithfulness to the love of God in Christ and through his people that characterizes the Episcopal Church at it’s best. It caught my attention.

And this isn’t completely theoretical on my part. I know it works because I grew up in thefastest growing and most racially diverse denomination in the US today: Seventh-day Adventists. Compared to Adventists, Episcopalians have an easier sell. Adventists are moderately conservative, theologically unique, and much less politically active and progressive than the Episcopal Church. And it too was founded by racially challenged white people from the Northeast. But they made a commitment early on in their history to reach out to the African-American community. And though they had many of the flaws in outreach prior to the Civil Rights movement that Episcopalians had, they kept asking. And it’s paid off for them. And if that example isn’t enough, the third most racially diverse religious group in the US as of this year are Jehovah’s Witnesses. A more extreme example.

The Episcopal Church has a lot to offer African-Americans, and it already has given our community much in education and talent. Many of the great minds of African American history and experience have been shaped in the Episcopal Church. And the Episcopal Church has even more to gain, not least in terms of greater racial awareness and understanding, by increasing the number of African American members. So, I’d encourage my soon to be official Church, to go out, reach out, and invite in your African-American brothers and sisters. You won’t regret it.