Sunday, July 16, 2017

Little Lost Church

Unlike outsiders who believe that the Episcopal Church is near collapse--partly in my view due to wish fulfillment--I don't think its condition is that dire, but there's no doubt that the Church has severe problems.

The drop in attendance is unquestioned, but the decline appears to have leveled off:
Among the old mainstream denominations reporting to the National Council of Churches, the Episcopal Church suffered the worst loss of membership from 1992-2002 — plunging from 3.4 million members to 2.3 million for a 32 percent loss. In the NCC’s 2012 yearbook, the Episcopal Church admitted another 2.71 percent annual membership loss.
For the past quarter-century, the Church's leaders have embraced coastal values (same-sex marriage, gender fluidity, climate-change environmentalism, social-justice redistributionism) without doing much outreach to the more conservative lay population and a few clergy dissenters.

Recalcitrant Dioceses have tried to break away while retaining their Anglicanism, but the Episcopal Church has responded with lawsuits that assert its legal claim to the properties (generally the Church has won in court). However, suing fellow Anglicans who have paid for the maintenance and usually the purchase of the properties that they have worshipped in for generations is not a good look.

As for the coastal Dioceses themselves, high property values raise the temptation to sell off real estate in order to cope with cash shortages. But that course of action meets with resistance from parishes (financially independent churches, unlike missions) that thought they owned the property because they paid for it. Generally title does not reside at the local level.

 St. James, Newport Beach (OC Register)
Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles tried to sell a Newport Beach property to a developer, but was stopped by the National Church. Bishop Bruno has been threatened with removal of his collar:
an attorney for the national Church has recommended he be defrocked.

Bruno’s misconduct allegations were over his move to sell the prime piece of real estate on Via Lido back in June 2015 for $15 million to a developer who wanted to build luxury condominiums there. Though that sale fell through, the congregation was evicted and remains locked out, forced to hold services in a community room at the Newport Beach Civic Center.
The church's dwindling resources are increasingly tied up in the courts and politics that are only tangentially related to the Christian mission. The Episcopal Church is not collapsing, but it has definitely lost its way.

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