“Old church takes bold new step” Where? Off a ledge?
“Old church takes bold new step” is the headline of an Albany, NY timesunion.com article about (stay with me, now) a “liberal” Episcopal Church getting pastoral oversight from a “liberal” bishop rather than the “conservative” bishop of the “conservative” diocese in which said “liberal” parish is stuck. (Liberal and conservative are the terms used in the article. They are more the language of our polarized national politics but hey, the article turns out to be more about a particular political cause than about the church anyway.)
This is an arrangement called DEPO, for “Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight.” It was a method tried out at first to help traditional Episcopal congregations guided by the Bible, church tradition and reasoned reflection who were under pressure from bishops and dioceses run by single issue (OK, LGBTQ) activists, bishops opposed to the Bible as the authority for Christian belief and practice, and bishops denying Christ as the unique Savior of the world and other foundations of faith in Christ. A congregation could appeal to have pastoral visits, Confirmations and other ministries from a Bishop supportive of the congregation’s theology and spirituality.
It is only fair that the same arrangement should be used for LGBTQ, anti-Biblical or Christophobic congregations suffering under traditionally Christian bishops. And so it is that the Episcopalians of St. George’s Church, Schenectady applied for and received visitation from a neighboring bishop named Gladstone “Skip” Adams, best known for closing an evangelical parish and it’s ministry to the local poor, then selling the facility at well below market to an Islamic center. St. George’s remains part of the Albany diocese led by traditional bishop William Love, but will receive direct care from Adams.
But this step, which the article lauds as “bold, cutting edge, creative” and filled with all of the usual buzz words that I won’t bother to retype for you here, is simply another revelation that we have two mutually exclusive belief systems trying to pass as one church. What seems tolerant and gentle at first glance is just evidence that people don’t share core convictions, priorities or even affection strong enough to keep them together in any meaningful way.
So the “bold step” is the one offered by Satan to Jesus in the wilderness, the offer to jump off of a tower in the expectation that God’s job is to catch us and kiss our boo-boo away. The “cutting edge” is just more mutilation of the body of Christ, working against Jesus’ own prayer and incurring God’s judgment.
It bears saying that some of the few traditional bishops left in The Episcopal Church see DEPO as an important safeguard. As the article points out, DEPO was instituted as a response to the concerns of traditional Christians in the denomination.
But their more humble tone (compared to the smug stuff in the timesunion.com piece) does not make “conservative” DEPO any better than “liberal” DEPO when it comes to the state of the denomination. It isn’t just St. George’s, Schenectady that is an “old church.” The Episcopal Church has some of the worst statistics and trends in the nation when it comes to attendance decline, age of members, financially distressed congregations and excluded groups (men, blue collar people and young people in particular). It continues to look for a magic pill that will reverse these trends, having attempted decades of changes that were supposed to open the church door to all kinds of people, and have by almost every measure resulted in people exiting without being replaced.
But there’s DEPO, which can at least sustain the lofty version of Christian charity, unity and mission held out by the leaders of St. George’s, Schenectady:
Senior Warden David Kennison said the congregation voted overwhelmingly at its annual meeting in January to link with Adams under DEPO. “We are not trying to hurt the diocese,” he said. “It’s just that we don’t agree on everything.”
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