My favourite word is 'love'. But one of my top ten faves is 'hope'. Recently, I had an exchange with Dean Munday of Nashotah House on his blog. A concern of many among the conservative Episcopalians has been the complacency with which the leadership of the Episcopal Church regards the decline in membership. Both average Sunday attendance and actual membership have decreased since the mid-sixties. There have been a few years in that period where the trend has leveled or reversed, but overall the trend has been down.
The word from our leadership has been that this is a natural result from our demographics and the trend is shared amongst most mainline Protestant denominations. All of which is true. What has been missing is any sense of urgency as well as any sense that this is serious and worth devoting energy and resources to reversing.
I read the House of Bishops and Deputies Mailing List at least twice a week. One senior clergyman reports on church defections and other demographic catastrophes from time to time. The responses to his posts have been largely vitriolic, condemning him for presuming to mention bad news. I have been and remain somewhat perplexed by these responses.
I am not the most optimistic person on the planet. My wife has repeatedly said that my brother got double the normal dose of optimism and I received double the normal dose of pessimism. She is probably right. I rarely think things will end well. Reality is messy, and the world is full of pain.
However, in the end, all will indeed be well. At the core of the Gospel is that lovely word 'hope'. Our hope is in Jesus, and He has said that we are known to God and loved by Him and that we have a home with Him at the end.
I think Dean Munday hit the nail on the head when he wrote “I would argue that this aspect of the European mentality is characteristic of American liberals as well. And that is hardly surprising, since once you have given up the assumptions of historic Christianity about the Gospel, sin and redemption, the nature and destiny of the human soul, etc., a kind of resignation about one's own decline and death or the destruction of human institutions takes over. “
So what we are seeing is a church that shows that it has abandoned the Gospel by its lack of hope. Is it little surprise that it also shows very little love either? A church without hope is a church that will not feel the need to evangelize. If there is no Good News, then there is no need to share Good News. What is left is a need to make the best of our time here on earth before we totter to our graves and the final oblivion.
This has produced some good results. The Episcopal Church really did well in promoting civil rights in the fifties and sixties. But it also has left us with a church unpinned by any constraints. As well as a church complacent in its own righteousness and purpose, because if there is no hope, then there really isn't any God. All that is left is social action as defined by a relativistic human scale.
As for me, as pessimistic as I am, and I am pessimistic, I cling to the hope we have been given by our Creator and is best exemplified by His Passion and Resurrection. That hope is well worth sharing.