On Sunday, the Episcopal Church invests its new Presiding Bishop and Chief Pastor. Bishop Michael Curry has promised to honor and include all minority groups within the church. Certainly, the menu for what we used to term an enthronement includes everyone from Native Americans to Muslim leaders. However, there’s one significant and growing minority that won’t be represented, won’t be in the congregation at the National Cathedral or for that matter in their local parish church. They have no leadership, no organization and no web site or Facebook page. Perhaps we should call them the X factor.
I’m not referring to another group of activists. They haven’t formed a rival church or joined an existing denomination. They constitute the most difficult group to penetrate. They are Ex-Episcopalians. That definition needs refining. They aren’t the perennial disgruntled, who inflict themselves on church after church, picking fights with all in general and the priest in particular. They aren’t among those who leave in indignation because their views on the correct placing of candlesticks were rejected. The mystical numbers and terms, ’28, ’79, Rite 1 or 2, EOW or LEHS mean nothing much and the place of the altar is a matter indifferent.
These people slipped away, almost unnoticed, quietly hurting. They are to be found on Sundays in their gardens, or in bed. In smaller communities, they are sometimes encountered in the grocery store or family restaurant. When nervously told they are missed, they smile and swiftly change the conversation.
Did they leave about women priests or gay marriage or new liturgies? Not necessarily. They left because they hate conflict and faction. They no more want to be members of the Society for a Pure Church than the Pressure Group for Sexual Excitement. One sermon too far about the wickedness of Progressives, or the deadly sins of Traditionalists, drove them out. That last experiment with yet another trial liturgy, at a moment in their lives when familiarity and memorized language were desperately needed caused them to give up, their souls and spirits ruined.
In time of need, they found their priest too busy attending meetings in support of a Cause to notice them, let alone give them a call, drop them an email, or, heaven forfend, visit them at home or even in hospital. Perhaps the parish leadership was too busy organizing church growth and evangelism to notice their absence. Thus, they’ve joined the ranks of the “unchurched,” usually described as unreachable, a statistic noted annually and spun out of mind. “The Church is smaller but leaner,” we are told. “They joined ACNA,” which, if that were true, ACNA would soon become mainstream. Because they have not allied to a faction they are tepid and have been “spewed out.” In that they are not activists, they are morally inept.
They once were in church each Sunday, perhaps helped with coffee hour, helped feed the poor, washed the altar linens, sang in the choir, gave their pledge and worshiped quietly. Now, driven out by conflicting revisionists, left and right, they have left the House of Battle. They won’t be included in our broad tent or remembered in Washington on Sunday. They are the Xs and no good shepherd seeks to find them and bring them home rejoicing.
Tony Clavier’s other posts may be found here. The featured image is “The new Chieftain pub — looking west” (2011) by Flickr user Feggy Art. It is licensed under Creative Commons.
Tony, I wonder how many of these “Dones” may also be leaders who were silenced or marginalized by defensive and emotionally immature clergy, unwilling to listen to fair criticism, or whose leadership was not welcome.
No way to tell, but I was thinking more of people who don’t fight, don’t seek to lead, to whom worship and “membership” constitute refuge, refreshment and yes, delight. Open vestry battles, hostile parish meetings, emails, telephone calls, urging that they pick sides, introduction of unsettling liturgies, and political sermons combine to make them seek refuge at home.
Dear Fr. Tony, Well said. I pray that our convent can be the refuge for souls such as you describe. Already we have local folks who come visiting or volunteering because they have sensed a “thin” place for God-moment. Now to make such a “thin” place reachable via the Internet so that geography can no longer be a barrier. That is my prayer anyway. Lord, have mercy!
Dear Sister Miriam:
I am delighted to hear it. I shall keep you and the sisters in my thoughts and prayers. It is good to see that you saw my blog as a reminder and a challenge rather than assault on one faction or another!
Hmmm…As I read the article, I noticed something else missing. Responsibility. Everyone is responsible for his or her own choices. This is true for church leaders. It is equally true for those who “quietly slip away”. I believe that everyone must work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Those who entirely disconnect with a communal expression of faith are not simply making a choice to avoid religion and its baggage, they are also making the choice to disobey God (Hebrews 10:25 comes to mind). Might it be that the phenomena of simply avoiding church altogether could reflect a… Read more »
Yes, community, mature community of mature disciples requires responsibility and an “other/outward” bonding. I have found in building community that those who have that sense of “other/outward” bonding also need a gentle manner where the fears and wounds of strife may be healed by the realization of the love that God wants for each soul, instead of the projected fear of an angry father. I have failed so many times in this and continually pray for its incarnation in my leadership in community
I am one of the “ignored minority” of former Episcopalians. Your essay struck straight at the heart of why I could no longer consider myself an Episcopalian. I could not remain in a church that was dysfunctional at every level from the parish to the Anglican Communion. Nearly every member of the clergy I had dealings with lacked what might be termed “a well-integrated personality” and because these same people would vet others seeking ordination, I saw no hope for the future. I’m sorry that Mr. Webster considers folks like me to lack “responsibility” for building “community” but sometimes we… Read more »