“We can no longer wait inside our sanctuaries to welcome those
who want to become Episcopalian….We can continue to watch our church dwindle
until it someday becomes an endowed museum to the faith of our forebears….
Or we can lose our life for Jesus’ sake so that we might save it.”
The text above is from a document I am proud to have been on the team to create: A Memorial to the Church. The text is meant to give focus to the work of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church which meets next month in Salt Lake City. My friends and I created nothing new. Not only did will build on the good work done by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church, but the decline of mainline Christian churches is no secret and so many of us across a number of denominations are all looking how how best to be faithful in these changing circumstances. Life-giving transformation must come. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is quite capable of making all things new.
What is a Memorial?
A Memorial is an odd term used by the Episcopal Church for a written statement urging action by the General Convention. Memorials written by Chicago, Montana, New Jersey, and South Florida in 1964 led to a name change dropping “Protestant” from the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.” More notably William Augustus Muhlenberg and others presented a Memorial to the House of Bishops in 1853 which touched off increased ecumenical work by our church.
Not a New “Decade of Evangelism”
Following the lead of the 1988, meeting of all the bishops of the Anglican Church, called the Lambeth Conference, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church named the 1990s as the Decade of Evangelism. Let’s forget for the moment that a church declaring a Decade of Evangelism is like an airline declaring a Decade of Flight. The 1990s saw steeper church decline than in previous decades. This doesn’t mean evangelism is a bad idea. The decline just means we, as a denomination, didn’t share the Gospel the way we hoped. But we never really thought we could grow the Body of Christ by passing resolutions in meetings did we?
This is why the present Memorial to the Church acknowledges clearly that none of what we might hope will occur other than on a foundation of reading scripture, praying individually and corporately, and serving God through serving others. In that sense, we don’t need the General Convention to bring about the transformation for which we yearn. That just comes through faithfully following Jesus and sharing the love of God with others.
Specific Action to Make this Real
The Memorial gains meaning when it is made real with actions of the General Convention which live into the change for which it calls. So, those of us who wrote the Memorial also crafted nine resolutions that give substance to the initiative. I will write about these resolutions in the coming days, but they are all gathered with the Memorial at EpiscopalResurrection.org
Please note that you will see people have joined us in signing the Memorial, but doing so is not endorsement for this group of resolutions. Each Deputy and Bishop will prayerfully decide their own way to support the goals of the Memorial through the votes they cast in Convention. But the key is that each of us who sign the Memorial agree that this is the vision toward which we are working. We hold in common a desire to remove obstacles embedded in current structures and to refocus “our energies from building up a large, centralized, expensive, hierarchical church-wide structure, to networking and supporting mission at the local level, where we all may learn how to follow Jesus into all of our neighborhoods.”
I believe if we take concrete action in support of this while building up the Body of Christ through the practices of the faith we uphold, then whether the specific resolutions found at that website pass or not, the General Convention will begin to turn our beloved church toward the right goal.