Is the presiding bishop accurate?

Take a look at the following sentences from the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and ask yourself — is this statement accurate?

Referring to turmoil in the Episcopal Church following the election of an openly-gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003, Katharine Jefferts Schori says:

“It’s a very, very small part of this church, less than 1 percent, that sees this of sufficient concern to want to leave over it,” she said. “Our job is to bless their going and reassure them our door is always open and that we’ll keep the light on for them.” (Salt Lake Tribune)

1.) The 1 percent figure is suspect. Here’s why.

According to the Episcopal Church’s own research department, average Sunday attendance (ASA) dropped 9.6 percent between 2002 and 2006. During that time period, ASA plunged from 846,640 to 765,326 — a loss of 81,314 churchgoers on Sundays. Prior to Robinson’s ordination, the Episcopal Church — incredibly — had been growing (the only mainline denomination to do so.) In 2003, conservatives warned the Robinson ordination would have a disastrous impact on attendance. Key liberals (on the national morning news shows and elsewhere) predicted it would have a positive impact on attendance by attracting Catholics and others who want a more gay-positive church. They presented anecdotal evidence to that effect. Undoubtedly, Robinson’s ordination has drawn new members, but overall, attendance is down sharply.

2.) “Our job is to bless their going…” Thus far, the Episcopal Church has “blessed their going” primarily by hiring teams of attorneys, filing lawsuits and stripping them of their ordination for “abandoning the communion” of the church. Even when entire congregations depart — with 100 percent of the worshippers leaving — the Episcopal Church claims ownership of their bank accounts, their buildings, even their name tags.

If this is the presiding bishop’s idea of a “blessing”, I can only imagine what one of her “cursings” would be like.

Updated: April 21, 2008 — 11:02 am

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  1. Frank??? When someone leaves their job at the ADG, do they take their computer and desk furniture and get to raid the supply cabinet on the way out? If you dropped out of the Kiwanis Club, would you expect them to cut you a check for your share of the bank account? If you decided to leave the Moose Lodge, don’t you think the faithful remaining members might complain if you represented yourself as autonomous independent Moose in good standing and violated their trademark by continuing to wear the sacred antlers without authorization?

    It’s easy to criticize, but more difficult to defend a stand. Tell us, please, what is the correct and graceful way to say good-bye to members who leave the church of their own volition because they no longer wish to remain in fellowship?

    Frank replies: 1.) When someone leaves the ADG, they take the furniture with them — if they’ve paid for it themselves. 2.) My question remains: Can you simultaneously bless someone and sue them? Can you do it simultaneously in a way that is 1.) correct, 2.) graceful and 3.) Christlike?

  2. Anytime you’ve got a church split, it’s a fairly workable rule of thumb to look for hyperbole, if not outright lies, on both sides. I’ve heard that some denominations call this kind of dialogue “speaking evangelistically.”

  3. Jose, my father is a loyal member of the Elks Lodge, so watch what you say about those sacred antlers. But you’re right: In the eyes of the law, the Episcopal Church is no different than any other club or voluntary association. It’s all governed by contract. When you form a parish of the Episcopal Church, you agree to follow the canons of the church, including the provision that the Diocese owns the physical property and assets of the church, and if the people leave, the property stays.

    No one hoodwinked them into agreeing to this arrangement, which is the norm in hierarchical churches such as the Catholic and Episcopal Churches. And it serves a purpose. There are two distinct forms of congregations in the Episcopal Church, a parish and a mission. A parish is self sustaining, that is, it provides sufficient funds to pay its staff and keep up its buildings and hopefully contribute to the Diocese. A mission is partly supported by the Diocese. We have seen a number of occasions in which a parish had to be converted to mission status when the congregation became financially unstable. The only way the Diocese can manage this is if it, not the parish, owns the property and has the right to administer it if necessary. In the cases of whole parishes that have left the church, I suspect that the Diocese, if it retains the property, will “seed” a mission there and build up a new parish.

    As to Frank’s philosophical point about whether one can bless and sue someone at the same time, I defer to my father and his fellow Elks, who would say, “Bidness is bidness.”

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