By Mary Ann Mueller
February 22, 2010
OMAHA, NEBRASKA---"Can a diocese leave the Episcopal Church?" During Monday's Episcopal Executive Council's Internet News Conference, Bonnie Anderson, the president of the Episcopal House of Deputies, asked what she called a simple question.
"What is the process for those kinds of concerns?" Ms. Anderson continued in speculation. "And making sure that we know and everyone knows what we have agreed to -- in terms of our General Convention -- over the years when we were all carefully walking this path together, and hopefully we can continue to do that."
However, Dr. Anderson did not provide a definitive answer to her own question. The query still remains unanswered leaving it up to various state courts to decide as expensive litigations chug through courtrooms on both coastlines and throughout the rest of the nation.
This speculation came on the heels of VOL's questions concerning The Episcopal Church's attempt to meddle into the internal diocesan affairs of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina based upon Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's understanding that some South Carolinian Episcopalians "have expressed concern about some who have departed the Episcopal Church and attempted to maintain control of Episcopal Church assets. They have asked for some assistance because the church has a whole has some responsibility."
The Presiding Bishop went on to say that Episcopalians are laboring under the hindrance of erroneous information that is making its way through the church, noting that people are relying on opinions rather than factual information and that the representation of the theology of the church is inaccurate as well as the dissemination of facts on church-dwide procedural matters blaming the Internet, in part, for the dearth of accurate details.
"I would certainly hope that Episcopalians in South Carolina have a clear understanding of the realities of The Episcopal Church and they don't depend on erroneous information," the Presiding Bishop noted.
She explained that Episcopalians, like many others who use the Internet, often seek information in places that do not accurately reflect The Episcopal Church's stances indicating that anyone who is seeking precise facts should get their information directly from Episcopal Church sources.
The Episcopal Executive Council concluded its four-day Lenten session meeting in the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska in the heartland of the nation. The Council touched on a wide variety of issues including: church budgets, the Diocese of South Carolina's postponed diocesan convention, church membership numbers, nature's fury in Haiti and the Dakotas, military deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq, TEC standing committees, and the Omaha Tri-Faith Initiative
Meanwhile, The Episcopal Church also continues to keep its head in the sand when it comes to declining membership numbers. The Executive Council heard from TEC Program Officer Kirk Hadaway that, according to the latest Parochial Report (2008), TEC membership continues to plummet in the United States, dropping 2.8 percent in membership and 3.1 percent in the Average Sunday Attendance figures.
At that same Executive Council Internet News Conference, Ms. Anderson shrugged off the eroding rolls as non-consequential because, according to a recent report released by the National Council of Churches, most of the other American denominations seem to be losing members too.
"The churches are experiencing a decline in attendance and membership and that is true regardless of their theological orientation. We're not alone." She said. "Viewing this issue through an ideological lens I don't find particularly helpful because it does not lead to an accurate diagnosis of the problem."
Those problems, according to Ms. Anderson, include the need to reinvigorate worship, re-energize evangelism and reach out to communities as well as the failure to see the positive things The Episcopal Church offers to the world, which are a strong democratic polity, a strong commitment to mission and social justice, and the vital ministry of lay people.
"We need to respond to the decline across all the mainline churches by really giving the people a good reason to get out of bed on a Sunday morning and join us," she said.
No mention was made of Christ, the Sacramental life of the Church, or historic apostolic teaching.
----Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline