"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

20 September 2008

Old Wounds

I wrote this a year ago and shared it with some members of my diocese. But because of my then parish assignment, I did so anonymously. Maybe it's because I'm reacting, a little ticked off with TEC, kind of want to slug the first person I find in a tacky mitre.... or at least grab such a person and shake some sense into her. Actually, its part that, but I also feel it's time to claim my words. So here they are.

What Do We Leave Them?
October 19, 2007
I have been an Anglican, an Episcopalian, for fifteen years. It was the liturgy that wooed me from my childhood church. I was a young Christian looking for more. A cultural Protestantism, a surface faith, could not hold me. I would rather be an agnostic than a shallow, cultural Christian. Finding liturgical worship was like finding my way home to something richer, more all-enfolding. I had come home.

I thought long and hard, though, before taking the plunge. My only hesitation about the Episcopal Church was this: at the ripe old age of eighteen it was clear to me that the Episcopal Church had done an abysmal job of keeping its children Christian. None of my friends who were “cradle Episcopalians” were really practicing the faith. They were just marking time, Sunday by Sunday, before they would go off to college and graduate from church. Most of them would return for their wedding day, but none of them could really say they knew Jesus. Their lives bore no fruit.

Even at eighteen, I knew that the church I stepped into would be the church in which I raised my own children. I thought long and hard about joining a church in which membership would be a parenting handicap. I knew that I wanted my own children to know Christ. It was heartbreaking to choose a church which I could not trust to assist in that venture, but at least I can say that I went in with my eyes open.

Even fifteen years ago, America was a nation in search of culture. The Episcopal Church with our liturgy gives young people, Gen-X’ers a sense of belonging and ritual that so many of us desire. With our sense of Tradition, the Episcopal Church (like the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches) gives otherwise disconnected X’ers a sense of place in a long chain of believers stretching back to the dawn of time. This is immensely valuable, a rare and precious gift. It is a gift which can be a tool to attract people my age to the Christian faith. It is a gift that can combat the surface Christianity which so repelled me, even at the age of eighteen. It is a gift which so many in the world at large are seeking. Yet it is a gift which we have utterly failed to pass on to at least two generations of our children. The median age in the church is somewhere in the upper Baby-Boomer range; that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Fifteen years later, I have three children of my own. Having gone in with my eyes open, I work every day to make sure they are discipled in the Christian faith. I realize that the church I have freely chosen has long ago abandoned any real Christian upbringing of children, relegating Christian mentoring to watered-down Sunday schools and pre-digested preaching. In some ways, I am thankful. I have no illusions that I can leave the discipleship of my children to the work of the church. I take up my task as a parent with eyes open and heart willing.

At the same time, I see the children of my parish as they grow up and graduate from church. I can count on one hand the number of kids who will likely come back, voluntarily, when it does not involve pleasing their parents or finding a decent backdrop for their wedding pictures. Ministry in this environment is like swimming upstream; how can we disciple the kids when for over a generation we have left the parents as fallow fields?

And when my own children grow and leave this nest, where am I to direct them in their search for a faithful church community, for I can no longer simply accept that a church that has a similar name on its sign will have a similar doctrine from its pulpit. My children can no longer trust the guidance of the church on the simple basis that it is the church of their youth. Within our own lands, our children are like lambs among wolves.

It comes down to this, in the end. When asked why I choose the road that I have chosen, the road to support the realignment of the church, though it will mean loss for me, personally, I have three reasons which are second in importance only to the truth of the Scriptures… three young children for whom the church will be an inheritance. We must be good stewards of the faith for their sakes. For at least two generations we have failed in that stewardship and the inheritance has not been, in its fullness, delivered. Thus I find myself saying that this must stop here. This young generation must not suffer for the sins of their forefathers. We must ask ourselves: what do we leave them?

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