28 July 2014

Time and Changes

I have been told that at any given time, about thirty percent of the parishes in The Episcopal Church are in some aspect of the transition process. The numbers for diocese are a bit different, but none-the-less, a substantial number of bishops retire every year, in part because we tend to elect people in their mid to late 50's. Add the statistic that TENS heard in Atlanta this Summer, that about half of all "mainline" churches will close in the next ten years, and stability is no longer a feature of the church.

I do not know the numbers for other churches. The differences in polity between for instance TEC and the United Methodists make comparisons difficult. All Methodist churches are by definition in transition as their bishops simply re-assign clergy every few years. Permanence, if it is valued by the Methodists, does not come from clergy!

Parishes close in Roman Catholic diocese with disturbing frequency. Here in Chicago, it is a feature of early Summer, that after school has adjourned, the diocese closes schools and churches. Three functions seem to be involved; celibacy, there are simply not enough priests to staff small churches; deferred maintenance, I can recall at least two churches closed because they were no longer safe buildings; and the ever popular money. Again, permenence is not on offer.

This evening, on WCPT, I heard one of their more inciteful hosts (several are,) Norman Goldman talking about the effect accelerating rates of change is having on the American psyche. Mr. Goldman observed that only a few years ago, pot was illegal everywhere in the USA, and no States permited civil unions, let alone marriage equality. Drop back a few more years and de jure segregation was the law of many States.

Yes, the times are as the Dylan song has it, "a changing."

In both the church and the secular world, there are a great many who simply will not accept change. Churches see them in the ongoing argument over women's ministry, and of all things music. If you want to start a fight, consider some new hymns! In political terms, the very idea of an Afro-American president sends some citizens into low earth orbit. The idea that like Mr. Reagan, we might allow some Latin-American, "illegals" to stay is even more incinderary. Even allowing applicants for asylum decent detention pending their hearings sets off some in Texas and Arizona. But then, "humanitarian" down there is, as near as I can tell, an insult.

In both contexts, not only do some radically over-vlue a sense of stability, the worst of them want to set the clock back, or more accurately, the calendar. Politically, Rick Santorum and the Koch brothers want to ban contraception. Religiously, we have the spectre of "Forward in Faith" which actually wants to go backward and remove all women from ordained service. Two faces of the same, reactionary, coin.

Somewhere in my undergraduate hitory studies, I learned of Prince Metternich and the post-Napoleanic period. The diplomats who gathered for the Congress of Vienna set out to reverse the French Revolution, and the impact of modernity on Europe. They failed utterly. In 1848, revolution swept over Europe, and absolute monarchy was doomed. O, it hung on in Poland and Russia for a while, but even there the writing was on the wa.

One might observe that the Congress had as much success as the Council of Trent some centuries earlier. Rome never took over a Europe free of Protestants, or re-captured England, Wales, or Scotland. Monarchy would never take over Europe with absolute power again.

So too the role of women both in the church and the government. The day when a blowhard could insult a decent person and drive her from public life has passed. I do not know if Ms. Fluke will win her election in California, but I hope she will.

I don't know who the next presiding bishop will be. I do know that whomever it is, the church is not backing up on woman's ministries. Nor is it backing up on mariage equality, or "gay bishops." We have learned to live in transition. America may still have a way to go, but we have learned. Yes we face schism, but that is OK: we faced schsim before.

One either leads, follows, or gets run over. We choose not to be run over. The Republicn party seems determined to be under the tires. It is all choices and transition.

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