Generous Orthodoxy  

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why the Episcopal Church is shrinking

This recent report from a parish newsletter is guaranteed to be authentic, although a few details have been altered to provide anonymity.

A sizeable group of vestry representatives from the Deanery of South ========== assembled at the local conference center in April, to take part in a vestry retreat organized by local clergy. The 9 AM to 1 PM program was led by the Rev ===== and a husband-wife team of psychologists, and was followed by a delicious luncheon buffet.

The first half-hour was devoted to coffee and meeting one another as the various parish groups assembled. A large circle was then formed, and individual statements were given about hopes for the day. Then the program, or rather the games, began. The stated purpose was to relax us, to get to know one another’s names, and to produce an atmosphere of teamwork. Paper bags covered heads, and people had to form a line or persuade a stony-faced person to smile, etc., for two hours [italics original].

Finally we got down to what our representatives had come for—a practical exchange of what worked and what didn’t to encourage growth in a parish. That was the major concern of many attendees, but the leader asked us to show hands if we believed as individuals we would die. Then she said that since death was inevitable, the church too would inevitably die, so we shouldn’t worry about church maintenance and growth. Since we would die, we were “free to live!” It was pointed out that there was a difference between our attachments to 1) the church and 2) bricks and mortar.

The group kept reverting to its practical concerns, so the leaders decided we needed to loosen up with a 15-minute sing-along. Then one of the leaders got up and gave a brief history of Christian meditation, pointing out that after the Dalai Lama left Tibet and Pope John XXIII instituted reforms, meditation was revived in the West. A pair of shoe liners was placed in the center of our circle, and we were instructed to empty our minds and listen to God for ten minutes. We were sitting in very close proximity to one another, and I fear that many of us had minds that wandered to the buffet set out behind us.

The writer concluded with a brief report on how the various vestry members enjoyed their lunch and managed to exchange a few ideas about how they might encourage their members.