I come now to evangelism within the Episcopal Church. And I have to confess that this part of my presentation is going to be very short. Because it is almost impossible to speak of Evangelism and the Episcopal Church in the same breath in the USA. Practically no evangelism is undertaken by the denomination as a whole, though there are churches which are a glorious exception to this sad state of affairs.
During the Decade of Evangelism the TEC took no part but instead lost scores of thousands of members. Frank Griswold whose erstwhile diocese declined by about 30,000 during his time as PB, bravely spoke of doubling the denomination by 2010, but instead people walk away in their thousands. It is often said that TEC has 2 and a half million members but this is entirely misleading. Not only do a mere 700,000 appear in worship on a given Sunday but when people leave, the churches will not transfer their membership to a non-episcopal church and instead they stay on their lists as inactive members, thus illicitly swelling the numbers reported. The PB is able to maintain that only a small minority of churches have left, though they number in their hundreds. But she does not disclose the fact that not only is there deep unrest in many who remain and feel unable to break away because of emotional links with the past, but when you start assessing the numbers of people who have departed, they are disproportionately large. Flag ship churches are leaving, with their thousands of members. For example, Christ Church Plano, a well known Evangelical Church, has left the denomination and gone to AMiA. It has more members than the whole of the PB’s diocese. And the intentional way that lawsuits are being brought against the two biggest churches in TEC, The Falls Church and Truro in Virginia shows how worrying all this is to the leaders of TEC. Those two churches between them have more than 6000 members, and they and their finances are now lost to TEC.
If we ask why evangelism is at such a discount in TEC, the answer may well be complex. One reason is that evangelism is not and never has been in the DNA of Episcopalians. TEC has been an acknowledged refuge from the enthusiasm of the Baptists! Moreover, the average age of members in the congregations is so high, up into the late 60s across the country, and this of course militates against active evangelism. The future for the denomination in sheer terms of numbers is bleak”¦ the average number in a congregation being about 75. But also there is a theological blockage. On the one hand the belief seems to be that so long as they are baptized people are automatically Christians, irrespective of repentance and faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit ”“whereas in the NT all three elements figure in Christian initiation. The other is that the policies of the TEC are inclusive, which is wonderful, but inclusive without the need for transformation, which is not wonderful. You are welcome just as you are with no need to change. All lifestyles are acceptable.
A State Governor who has had to resign because of his divorce and taking up an active homosexual lifestyle has been accepted for ordination training in TEC. Not only all lilfestyles but all beliefs seem to be acceptable in the Episcopal Church. Only the other day a woman priest who has become a Muslim claimed to belong to both faiths ”“ without any rebuke from her bishop. The influence of Jack Spong is widespread and has never been repudiated by TEC. I find that repentance and faith is rarely mentioned in Episcopal pulpits, and the name of Jesus is scarce. As for the Holy Spirit he is generally associated with the votes of the majority. The church is moving in the direction of an undifferentiated Deism. Belief in the deity of Jesus, an objective atonement and the reality of the resurrection are constantly discounted among influential Episcopalians, while the people in the pew prefer not to enquire too closely. And the PB herself has made it plain that all religions lead to God. No wonder the church leaks!
This is one of the papers presented at the Oxford Consultation. The final section contains some wonderful examples of Anglican evangelistic initiatives in North America.