March 28, 2010

Be gracious to me, LORD, for I am in distress; with grief my eyes are wasted, my soul and body spent.

My life is worn out by sorrow, my years by sighing. My strength fails in affliction; my bones are consumed.

To all my foes I am a thing of scorn, to my neighbors, a dreaded sight, a horror to my friends. When they see me in the street, they quickly shy away. — Psalm 31: 11-12

I attended my last Episcopal Church service (at least as an Episcopalian) today – ironically, at the very same church I was baptized in over 54 years ago, Christ Episcopal Church in Somerville, MA, a city just outside of Boston. My only reason for attending that particular church was that I needed a copy of my baptism certificate so I could be received into the Roman Catholic faith four weeks from today, and several prior attempts to accomplish this by phone had proven fruitless.

Now I know why. Because, like so many other small urban parishes in the same kind of situation, Christ Episcopal Church is dying. And it is both painful and heartbreaking to watch.

I’m sure that at the time of my baptism 54+ years ago Christ Episcopal was a vibrant and thriving congregation. My mom had virtually grown up in that church along with many friends and members of her family. The church itself might have been of a humble size (probably seating 100 or more souls) and location (situated on the edges of several neighborhoods just off of a main thoroughfare), but it undoubtedly filled a very important place in the community and the lives of those who would walk or drive a short ways to worship and socialize.

Of course, this was back in the days when the Episcopal Church was a relevant force in American Protestantism, before its decline and disintegration at the hands of the so-called “progressive elitists” who saw the role of the Episcopal Church to be the moral conscience of an America they saw as intolerant, unaccepting, and non-diverse.

Today was a perfect opportunity to see the “wages of sin” the Episcopal Church has paid to achieve such a lofty position in mainline Protestantism. On a clear and crisp Palm Sunday, my mom and I were one of only a total of 20+ odd souls (including the priest) who gathered together for worship.

And it was an odd, albeit earnest group that had gathered. My mom and me, a couple of mothers with young children, a few teenagers, a couple of elderly ladies, an Asian organist in her 30s (who played every verse of some very old and difficult to sing Anglican hymns), four adult women with Down’s Syndrome, and, accompanying the priest in the sanctuary, an autistic African-American man in his 30s and a mentally retarded middle-aged gentleman, both of whom were vested but totally incapable of assisting the priest in any way.

The priest himself (what they call a priest-in-charge, someone the diocese would ask to look after a parish in a stipend-paying role) was pleasant enough, but he presided with a somewhat bemused look on his face throughout, never opened a hymnal or prayer book, and never seemed concerned as people would come and go as they pleased throughout the service.

The worst of it was the building itself, which seemed as starved for life and attention as the liturgy was. Dirty and unkempt, some kneelers were barren of their cushions, others had tears in them, and hymnals and prayer books had torn bindings, leaving an overall sense of neglect and slow death. As a member of the congregation gamefully chanted the words of Psalm 31, I couldn’t help but feel the walls, walls who had seen so many better days, crying out in affirmation of their very state of existence and perilous situation.

Of course, the world has changed a great deal since Christ Episcopal’s salad days, and not just the world, but our society and culture as well. But, that being said, there is still no good reason why a church located where it is, with literally tens of thousands of people living within a ten-mile radius, should only attract 20+ people on a sunny and bright Palm Sunday morning.

And that’s where I blame the Episcopal Church in general, and the Diocese of Massachusetts in particular. Simply put, there is no excuse for neglecting parishes and uncaring clergy. As our Lord said, look all around, the fields are ripe for harvest. But the Episcopal Church has long forgotten about its missionary role – at least the missionary field that lies beyond the gay and lesbian community. Because that’s all the Episcopal Church stands for nowadays and has stood for, for a long time: making gays and lesbians feel good about the sexual choices they’ve made in their lives and the lifestyles they’ve chosen for themselves.

Some may think this sounds harsh, but I’m sorry, you cannot look at Christ Episcopal in Somerville and so many other parishes in the very same situation today, and not see the damage the two decade-long non-stop debate over homosexuality, and the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians as diocesan lay leaders, priests, and bishops has wreaked on a once-proud and influential mainline Protestant denomination. It’s sad, and it’s sickening.

But it’s not surprising. Because this is what happens when you toss two thousand years of traditional church doctrine and teaching out the window in an effort to be more accepting, diverse, and tolerant. You water down your theology and ordain priests who are taught, and know only how to teach, the so-called “social Gospel”, and is it any wonder why you haven’t a message that is attractive to the young families and professionals that are the life blood to any parish community? You lose the moral high ground,and soon enough, as the saying goes, when you believe in everything you believe in nothing.

And so it goes. The Episcopal Church is dying. What was a decade ago a mere slow bleed of membersip has turned into a hemorrhage that has resulted in parishes across the USA leaving the church and being closed. And as that happens, the financial impact is felt at every level. And soon undeserving churches like Christ Episcopal get neglected, then abandoned. And the community around it dies just a little more as a result.

But you’ll never hear a peep about this out of the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop – after all, to her the important thing is not the size of the Church, but what it stands for (whatever that might be). Well fine, but worshipping at the altar of tolerance, acceptance and diversity instead of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will get you exactly what you deserve – once-proud and thriving spiritual communities like Christ Episcopal neglected, all but forgotten as a part of the community, and doomed to a sad, slow death as a result of an apostate and spiritually-bankrupt Church with misguided leaders who could care less.

Rome may have its own significant problems to deal with, but at least I know the Lord it worships and the Gospel it teaches. And after today’s sad and depressing experience, I haven’t just come full circle in my life as an Episcopalian, I’m more than ready to move beyond it and starta new chapter as a Roman Catholic.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 20:05 | Comments (2)
  1. […] by Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest Online which follows up on a theme I touched on in this post from two weeks ago following a visit to the Episcopal Church I was baptized in. A must read for […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Truth Telling — April 12, 2010 @ 9:35 am

  2. […] ago. I leave a Church that is not just hemorrhaging membership, but, more importantly, hemorrhaging its very soul and future. I leave a Church whose devoted laity has been horribly disserved by apostate leaders at the […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Heading For Home — April 24, 2010 @ 10:32 pm

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