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This Modern Church

August 25, 2010

Here’s a compelling essay by Carol Howard Merritt reflecting on the need for mainline protestant churches (including, of course, the Episcopal Church) to adapt to the changing landscape of modern American culture. Merritt compares the story of Hagar and Ishmael searching for water in the desert to the struggles of mainline protestant congregations searching for mission and new members in the desert of this modern world.

It’s not a very inspiring analogy, I must say. For one thing, I don’t think we need to be told that the world has changed since the 1950’s. I, for one, came to the Episcopal Church in the year 2000 with no religious background whatsoever and chose to worship here because it struck me as the most fully modern place to seek and know God that I could find (and I was living up near Columbia University in New York City, so I had options).

The Episcopal Church is a place where women occupy all the leadership roles men occupy, where openly gay men and women are present as lay people, deacons, priests and bishops. It’s a place that honors a wide diversity of theological thought and belief, that encourages questioning and exploring and doesn’t cut off conversation by insisting that there is and must be a final answer to weighty questions about God and Jesus. It has devoted itself to ministering to the poor and oppressed in around its local parishes and all over the world. And it is actively engaged in local, regional, national and world political issues to do with peace and justice.

Is our modern cultural landscape truly analogous to a desert from the perspective of the Episcopal Church? I do not think so. Yes, we could do better about the whole hiding-our-light-under-a-bushel thing. Yes, we definitely need to get the word out to the wider world. Yes, we need to let this modern world know how awesome we are. And yes, we could do more to help people get into our complex, musical and poetry-inflected liturgy. But are we, as an institution, at our core, painfully behind the times?

No. Not from my perspective.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Betsy Adams permalink
    August 25, 2010 2:31 pm

    I always wonder about this ‘search for new members’. Its all in what motivates us. Many times when I hear discussions about member ship is about the numbers, about folks to help existing members pay the bills. I hear people say, “We need new members, we need young families” yet the questions ‘why do wee need new members, why do we need young families?, are often met with a blank stare. If our motivator is not the Good News of Jesus Christ in general and in particular the Good News as expressed by the Episcopal church (by way of St. Peters), then we should not bother. I love the 3rd paragraph above. That’s where I see Good News in TEC

    Some of the best news that I’ve seen is the welcome and inclusion of our friends from the ALF, who I’m pretty sure do not contribute financially and are certainly not ‘young families with children’. Yet these folks do feel that they are a part of the church and are faithful in attendance.

    I feel that any discussion about being up with the times or searching for new members should always include the question, “Why?”

  2. Murray permalink
    August 25, 2010 2:47 pm

    ‘Yes, we need to let this modern world know how awesome we are.’

    If there is anything awesome about us, it is because Jesus made us that way. Therefore, I perceive the church’s role as revealing to the world who Jesus is so that they can be likewise transformed by Him as were we.

  3. Michael Adams permalink
    September 7, 2010 12:19 pm

    The larger question is how do we overcome the perception of Christians that is dictated by the likes of the folks who are burning the Quran this weekend?

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  1. This Modern Church, cont’d « Cathedral Crossings

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