The House of Bishops and Deputies Mailing list is having its regular discussion of the Episcopal Church's declining membership. Someone posted a set of statistics showing that the decline is real and asked the simple question : "What does this say about us?".
The respondents have been many and vocal. And the vast majority of them engage in deflection in their replies. "Everyone else is experiencing declines as well", "It can't be the consecration of Bishop Robinson, that was in 2003", "Folks are just tired of all the fighting" and my personal favourite: "Maybe they're not leaving per se, they're just dying."(All of the quotes are paraphrases. I'm not allowed to quote directly).
No one wants to step up and say "Here's what we need to do to reverse this." No one.
I know what to do, though. And it's not because I'm a super-genius either. It's because every time it's been tried, it works. Here's what has to be done.
First, at the next General Convention, have a revival. I know we are Episcopalians and we have never gone in for that sort of thing, but it's time we did. Bring in wall to wall good, effective, orthodox preachers. Have a cracking good choir or two or three. Preach fire and brimstone and call for repentance. Set the leadership ablaze with the true Spirit of God.
Second, revive the Inquisition. Just kidding. Step two: Do what the Southern Baptists did and what the Catholics are doing. Purge the seminaries. Bring them back to the Gospel. Next purge 815, from top to bottom. We really do not need that many people in the bureaucracy.
Step three, consolidate the dioceses. I figure we could get by with maybe thirty, probably less than that, but thirty seems about right geographically. Most dioceses would have at least one suffragan.
Fourth, and no one will like this idea. Update both the BCP and the Hymnal. Bring back the bad old hymns in their original words. Include newer hymns with the nicer words. Eschew stealth editing forever more. More importantly, with the BCP, take Cranmer's original and update the verbiage. That's it. Steal the Baltimore Catechism from the Romans and conform it theologically to Hooker and the 39 Articles. Require Confirmation of every person wishing to join the Episcopal Church. Require that confirmands memorize the new catechism. No one has to agree with it, but they have to understand and know it. Disallow all alternative services for at least ten years.
Fifth, dismiss all bishops, priests and deacons who are not either 1) celibate or 2) married to a person of the opposite sex. Dismiss all bishops, priests and deacons who are divorced. Dismiss all bishops, priests and deacons who are in California, Massachusetts, Chicago, New York or Newark. Just because.
Sixth, and perhaps most important of all. Give away the endowment. All of it. Come up with a plan to get rid of it in five years and stick to it. Require our churches and dioceses to similarly dispose of their endowments. It's time to live within our income as a church.
Seventh, trim the parish rolls. Count as members only those that attend at least monthly and donate to the church.
If the church followed my little scheme, our numbers would drop like a frozen turkey tossed from a helicopter. For about a year or two. And then we would grow. We would probably grow somewhat dramatically.
It's not going to happen though. The revisionists would never go along with the theological reforms, the pew potatoes would hate the organizational reforms, and everyone would hate giving all that lovely cash away.
I can back up each point with some fairly irrefutable reasons why they are necessary. I will do so upon demand. But the main point is that the Episcopal Church has no reason to exist at the present. That lack is killing it. We need to reform and refocus on what is truly important. We need less deflection and a lot more honesty. We need less narcissism and more commitment to God. We need a lot less dialog and a lot more obedience, not to men, not to canons, constitutions, bloggers, priests or bishops, but to God.
We need it. But it ain't gonna happen.