The tenor and emotion of the Episcopal Church at General Convention has been on a rollercoaster ride. At one moment, the House of Deputies bursted into spontaneous singing as they anxiously awaited the announcement about the election of the next Presiding Bishop. Then, like a sudden key change, the conversation returns to a communal lament on our decreasing membership, money, and influence.
We seem to think that the grass was greener for the Episcopal Church in some bygone era. Once upon a time, we planted Episcopal churches within blocks of neighboring churches. Now we shutter those churches because the money and people have disappeared. After World War II, our seminaries were bursting at the seams. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, many of our seminaries are merging, closing, or managing their own decline.
What has happened? Has the Spirit left the Church? Like Ezekiel, have we witnessed the presence of God abandon the Temple that we love so dearly? Was the grass greener all those years ago?
In this time of Church wide hand-wringing, we must constantly remind ourselves of the good news of Jesus Christ: God has not left the Church. The risen Lord made a solemn promise to his disciples that he would be with us “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). As disciples of Jesus, we must never forget that the “bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble” (Book of Common Prayer, 298). At the end of the day, God abides with the Church. The grass is as green as it ever was.
God is always with us, but we are timid. We allot an exorbitant amount of money for bureaucracy while church planters and evangelists have to clamor for the budgetary leftovers. We tell stories of decline rather than the stories of transformation and resurrection that are happening in every single Episcopal community across this Church. Instead of giving thanks for God’s abounding grace, we wring our hands and wish that we had some fertilizer to make our grass greener.
Of course, we already have the fertilizer. We are just afraid to use it because it will mean change. To grow the grass beneath our feet we have to radically decentralize the burden of bureaucracy. We have to put our money where our mission is and make evangelism (both digital and traditional church planting) a financial priority.
And at the end of the day – if structural changes are a giant disaster, if every single new church plant fails, if digital discipleship is a flop – God will still be with us. Our Lord’s resurrection is not contingent upon our success or failure as a Church. Robert Jenson says, “we sin when we do not take risks.” Now is the time to risk it all for the sake of the gospel. “Shall our hearts forget his promise, ‘I am with thee evermore’?”