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By the Very Rev. Ian Markham
Dean & President, Virginia Theological Seminary
How will this General Convention be judged by history? This is a difficult, perhaps impossible, question to answer. Yet, as we busy ourselves with the minutiae of resolutions and debates, it is worth trying to stand back and see the big picture.
One way to think about this question is to locate the Episcopal Church within the historical trajectories of our age. Secularization is on the rise; skepticism abounds. Populist movements are rising here in the United States and around the globe, some with sinister racist propensities. Social media is growing. More locally, within the history of the mainline and the Episcopal Church, it looks clear that ACNA lost in the courts and is going to be seen, when compared to the 1979 Prayer Book division, as one of the smaller splits from the Episcopal Church. Smaller churches continue to struggle, while larger churches are just about holding their own. Dioceses are heavily dependent on the small number of strong congregations and are often having to cut program to survive. We still have not turned around the membership and attendance decline.
In one area, I am sure this conference will be attentive. With respect to the political, the concerns around immigration, racism and the environment will be given prominence. The Episcopal Church will offer an appropriate witness for our time. This is a moment when deep moral seriousness is needed. It is entirely necessary, for example, that we should take some time to think and articulate our abhorrence of the creeping and visible racism of our age.
In other areas, I am less confident this Convention will seize the challenge of the moment. With ACNA increasingly irrelevant, this is the moment for a dramatic reaching out to those brave conservatives who have stayed with the Episcopal Church. For some dioceses, they are often the ATM of the diocese, yet are hardly ever accorded respect. We need to all say – thank you for your witness, your congregational vibrancy, and your presence in our midst. May Prayer Book revision leave plenty of options for conservative congregations to feel comfortable inside the Episcopal Church.
The challenge facing congregations needs imaginative and enterprising responses. We need to lift up those imaginative clergy and dioceses who are finding new ways of connecting. From “Missional Voices” to “missional communities” to eformation, there are ideas out there that are making a difference.
The Episcopal Church is a deeply serious “trust,” which we inherit from those who served in the past and we are obligated to pass to those who are going to come after us. Every single one of us is a steward, with temporary responsibility for our tradition. We should take our duties as stewards very seriously. Let us leave the future a stronger Episcopal Church. This is our task at this General Convention.
Featured banner photo of GC79 worship space: Celal Kamran