The Ex- Church

Apropos the discussion on denominational demographics, I was thinking about another feature of the Episcopal Church… Of the people I know and hang out with–particularly online–I can think of very few cradle Episcopalians. Let’s think…
* I was Lutheran
* M was Presbyterian, then Methodist
* Anastasia was Conservative Evangelical
* The Twins were Methodist (then headed off to Rome after their Anglican stint)
* *Christopher was Pentecost than Catholic
* Gaunilo was Fundamentalist
* Texanglican was–something else (Baptist?)
* I don’t know what bls was raised–not Episcopal I think
Only a few remain as potential cradle Episcopalians (Caelius, Annie, etal.)

I wonder what this means or could mean for us as a church. On one hand, it means that we lack a certain institutional history. We are in danger of not knowing the whole story and of missing important parts of the heritage and tradition. Like…it’s easy for us to think Anglican=sacramental. But…how often did average non-Anglo-Catholic Episcopal churches celebrate Mass on Sundays; wasn’t Morning Prayer the normal Sunday service until this prayer book?

On the other hand we’re more likely to have convert-zeal. This is, of course, most common in Orthodox and Catholic converts, especally since zeal has some un-Episcopalian connotations. It might make you sweat on your seer-sucker suit, for instance–and we can’t have that…

I don’t know. I don’t have anything profound to say about it–I’m just wondering. How is this both a challenge and an opportunity? And if it is an opportunity, what do we do with it?

21 thoughts on “The Ex- Church

  1. Emily

    Well, you can count me as another cradle. . .

    One does wonder where the other Episcopalians go. . .if we kept them all, with all the converts, we’d be a huge denomination, one would think.

  2. bls

    Lots and lots of ex-Catholics, too. But you know, there are more ‘Piskies now than there were just after WWII ended. So actually, the Church has never been huge numerically, although it’s had a lot of influence. I think about half my parish are born ‘Piskies, though, just as an estimate.

    But does it really matter what the distant past was like? At some point, there won’t be anybody with first-hand memories of it anyway. And don’t forget: there are big patches of Anglo-Catholicism in the U.S. Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta (I think?), and a few others. So it’s always been a mix, hasn’t it?

    My Aunt was Episcopalian, so I was familiar with the Church and the Prayer Book – if that counts. I went to a Methodist Church till I was about 12, and left shortly thereafter.

  3. bls

    But anyway, there are so many more people now with zero experience of religion than ever before. So maybe it’s a good thing that there are lots of converts; maybe other people will feel more comfortable.

    And maybe it will keep the Church vital, too, now that I think of it. To me, it’s better to have the mix of new blood and oldtimers. Not always easy, but better.

    BTW, my parish was “High Church” back in the 1800s – another one influenced by the Oxford Movement, which really has changed everything, I think. We’re all sort of Anglo-Catholic these days, aren’t we?

  4. *Christopher

    Conversions are complex, and truth be told, had I explored a little more after leaving Pentecostalism, which was never a good fit from the day I was born, I likely would have come directly into the Episcopal Church, but I just loved the liturgy of the small Roman Catholic parish in my town and I’d fallen in love with icons and Mary. Trouble arose when I started asking questions about gender and sexuality and Papal authority and polity.

    I had convert zeal when I became Roman Catholic, which was in some sense a way to differentiate from my family. I didn’t lose that concern for the Gospel in becoming Episcopalian, but I’ve come to distrust overzealousness. Rather, these days a willingness to share the hope who is in me and offering hospitable spaciousness for encounter with Christ are more my style.

    What does it mean? I think that depends. The folks you mention who are converts to Anglican Christianity strike me as folks who tend to take seriously getting to know the tradition. But we also may not be very loyal to the institutions that embody that tradition and carry it forward over time.

    On a negative note, converting from tradition to tradition can lead one to skip out when rough points arise, going on to a more “perfect” tradition–there isn’t one. While that may be great for the next tradition, were I in the place I am today when I left the RC, I would still be Roman Catholic. See how complex that is?

    At the seminary I was at, folks would shed their Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism or Anglicanism like dirty undergarments with nary a thought to become UCC or UU or whatnot. Leaving the RC was one of the most painful experiences of my life, and I couldn’t go through that again. It was like a divorce.

    I think what is more important is that in whichever tradition one finally finds oneself, that one finally commits onself to that tradition and commits to conversion of life within that tradition. I struggle with this at times, but stability is vital to renewing one’s tradition and to continuing in conversion of life. It might be that we converts need to be especially mindful of commitment to our chosen tradition.

    My spiritual director, a Roman Catholic Benedictine sister, reminds often that Anglicanism is Benedictine spirituality institutionalized, and that is something worth staying for and working from within.

  5. Lutheran Zephyr

    What does a lifelong Episcopalian (or Lutheran) bring to the church that a new convert doesn’t? Well, depending on your perspective, the lifelong Episcopalian either brings baggage or an enduring perspective on the faith and tradition. Or probably a little bit of both.

    My parish is full of people who are lifelong Lutherans. And it is a fine parish. But there is something to be said for congregations that have a healthy – albiet, destablizing – mix of new converts and lifers. (And anyway, I’m not convinced the church is called to be entirely stable.)

    And anyway, if the church is simply full of lifers, are we really doing our job of proclaiming the Good News to those beyond our church doors? Aren’t the lifers missing out on the God-blessed insights and perspectives of converts, and aren’t potential converts missing out on the enduring faith and experience of lifers?

  6. Caelius

    People at my church have taken to introducing me as a “cradle Episcopalian.” This is how rare a species I am in my present very large and growing church, especially among the under 40 crowd. The only other cradle Episcopalian under 40 I know here is just a year younger than me and isn’t yet confirmed.

    “On one hand, it means that we lack a certain institutional history. We are in danger of not knowing the whole story and of missing important parts of the heritage and tradition. Like…it’s easy for us to think Anglican=sacramental. But…how often did average non-Anglo-Catholic Episcopal churches celebrate Mass on Sundays; wasn’t Morning Prayer the normal Sunday service until this prayer book?”

    I remember the very tail end of this era (Morning Prayer one Sunday a month as opposed to the opposite, the last memory of being the “cathedral of the Low Church.” St. John Chrysostom’s in Chicago has Eucharist twice a month. Most of my father’s generation wouldn’t stand for it. I’m still not sure whether this change was connected with the so-called “Liturgical Movement” or a much higher rate of Episcopal-Roman Catholic intermarriage.

    Can it be an opportunity? I think so. Ask John Wilkins what it’s like being a liberal High Churchman among ex-Catholics. He seems to be enjoying it and making the most of the opportunities it presents. He had an interesting piece about requests for First Communion services.

    Can it be a problem? Yes indeed. Catechesis can be a mess. Episcopal catechesis is far much more focused on the questions than the answers, but it assumes people have some understanding of a few basic questions. But I meet many Catholics who never have read the Bible in their life and are wondering where to start. Those from the other end of the spectrum have a sense of ecclesiastical history that is fairly threadbare between the Acts of the Apostles and the 95 Theses (and not much thereafter).

    And maybe it was always like this. Maybe, very few people have had any understanding of what they believed and just generally left things up to the professionals. But in a marketplace of competing voices, we need to be able to articulate the faith to other people and explain its role in the church’s social agenda.

    Finally, a church full of converts can be a very wounded church. Churches can do a great deal of harm to people, but they also can push them toward a transformed life. It’s often hard to determine the balance between the kind of healing founded on rest and the healing founded on rehabilitation.

  7. Father Basil

    Like most of you I’m someone who did not start out where I ended up. I was raised Roman Catholic, left the Church for a season, came back to Roman Catholicism briefly, and then entered the Episcopal Church in college. Then I went to seminary, ended up working as a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada, and now it appears I’ll be returning once again to ECUSA. How exhausting!

    The funny thing is that I’ve never really thought of myself as a convert. This may seem like a bias considering the tradition I came from, but I’ve always thought that my move from Rome to Canterbury was just sort of a sideways step. Because I understood the Anglican tradition to be congruent with Rome as bodies of the one universal Church, I simply moved from one place to another along a line.

    Yes there is a bit of convert Zeal that can be frightening. Anglicans rarely show it. So many of us came on board to be freed from some sort of wretched repressive structure. But there is also a zeal that is good, the zeal that is for Christ. We are so timid about witnessing, at least in North America. Our brothers and sisters in other traditions do not have this problem. If we really believe what we’re doing, why should we be embarassed by it. We should be shouting praises and overjoying at the love we have for God. Just think what kind of a church we’d be if we could do that.

  8. bls

    What’s really different today from what it was even 50 years ago is the idea that people can move from Church to Church and switch affiliations at the drop of a hat.

    Believe me, this sort of thing was just not done in the past. It was a big deal to convert, and a big deal to intermarry – even sometimes between related Protestant denominations! In my grandfather’s day – late 1800s, early 1900s – there were still active hostilities between Catholics and Protestants, and intermarriage would have been impossible.

    This is why I don’t think the history is necessarily anything to worry about, because I don’t think you guys are even very aware of this, right?

    And also: 50 years ago, everybody went to Church on Sunday, with only a few exceptions. And denominational loyalty was very strong. Things are really quite different now.

  9. Derek the Ænglican

    All great thoughts and comments. Randomly and in no particular order-
    bls, I would say that the current American prayerbook enshrines a sacramental focus that held a lesser place in earlier books and English books. I wouldn’t quite call it Anglo-Catholic, though, for a number of reasons, the most immediate to my mind being that even the most Scriptural and least “offensive” of the Marian devotions, the Hail Mary and the Angelus, are absent.

    Zephyr/*Christopher, stability really is a cardinal religious virtue. We would do well to recover it. Futhermore, it is intensly countercultural given the growth of consumer religion and disposable spirituality. I had to do a lot of wrestling with myself about the ethics of switching churches when I did so. The platitude I soothe my consience with is that I switched for the congregants on the principle that it wouldn’t be fair to a congregation to have a pastor whose theology and spirituality was essentially that of another tradition. I know lp’s going through this one right now…

    bls, we didn’t have any intermarriage in my family but my wife’s maternal grandmother, Scandinavian Reform, married a Catholic. My mother-in-law is still technically Catholic even though she’s attended a Presbyterian church for over 35 years. You’re right–it’s not that big of a deal any more. Even M and I were different denominations when we got married…

    Frbasil, that is what matters at the end of the day–allegiance to Christ and a willingness to spread the good news of what God has done for us through him. But the shape of that message is so poorly known particular because of all the switchingh. bls is right–everyone did attend and therefore went through mandatory confirmation. Even if they attended social, most people could at least tell you what their church thought that they ought to believe. Now–I’m not sure we’re close to that any more.

    Caelius, yes. The key is catechesis. We need to teach and remind our people of what our heritage is which is important because it determines how we understand Christ and his work in the world (and our continuing work in him). The typically 2 week class with the clergy for new members just doesn’t cut it any more.

  10. Annie

    Hi Derek,
    Yes, I’m a cradle Episcopalian.

    wasn’t Morning Prayer the normal Sunday service until this prayer book? If I recall my youth sufficiently well, we had Communion every other week, rotating with the “early service.” Also, if I recall correctly, the reason I was given for this practice was that the priest could only take communion once in a day. However, my memory has proven to be shaky on ancient history.

    I think the converts are wonderful! Believe me, to hear people talk about their “conversion experience,” makes me terribly proud to be Episcopalian. But I want to uphold the tradition that we are accepting of diverse points of view, that we respect scholarship and seeking.


  11. texanglican

    For the record, I received Holy Baptism in the Episcopal church but I was 23 years old at the time. I grew up unchurched, and never considered myself any kind of Christian growing up (having only a vague understanding of the faith at that point). By the time I graduated from college I was an agnostic with neo-pagan tendencies. (Seriously, I wrote my senior thesis on the late antique cult of the Unconquered Sun, and I started to buy into it!) But I had a conversion experience while studying in England in 1989 in an Anglican church and was baptised a few months later in Austin, Texas.

  12. bls

    Hmmm. I wonder if Anglicanism – which an ex-Catholic guy I know calls “Catholicism Done Right” (his words) – has more converts in a way because of the lack of Central Authority.

    I mean, perhaps its open and actually mystical approach to Christianity leaves people psychologically free to experience authentic conversion, as TexAnglican describes. I know he and I are not the only ones who’ve had this experience, and people do seem to have a deep attachment to this particular brand of the faith. A non-coercive attachment, that is; people don’t feel obligated to go, but are instead happy to. (It’s also, without doubt, the aesthetics, I have to say. That can become inauthentic, too, of course.)

    If it’s “Catholicism Done Right,” I think it may simply be the ability to remain attached to Tradition while at the same time allowing for a Modern sensibility. I’m pretty sure the Church Calendar, and the organic move from season to season, is a big part of it, too. This feels natural to people, I bet.

  13. bls

    (Which, if true, actually again goes to prove Rowan Williams’ point that our first obligation is to “put our neighbor in touch with God in Christ” – i.e., it’s to make conversion available to everyone.)

  14. Derek the Ænglican

    Cool!, TexAnglican–I’ve always had an unnatural affection for the Sol Invictus and Mithras cults myself… I’ve always thought a Mithraic reading of Revelation–especially the first few chapter–would be a fascinating thought-experiment…

    Annie and bls, I think you’re right about openness giving space for authentic conversion experiences and mystical development, I would argue that our tradition allows for the safest kind of mystical development because of its emphasis on both the Mass and the Office. So much really good and effective Christian mysticism has come out of the monastic tradition and its important to realize that these people weren’t just hanging out in the woods popping ‘shrooms all day–rather, their mysticism takes place in the context of the Sacraments and the Office which are very grounding things.

  15. Joe

    I’m a former Roman who married a Methodist…and so the Episcopal Church was a “bridge” that we were looking for.

    One of the things that I’ve noticed is that our Church often seems to be a haven for individuals who have been burned by more conservative churches. We are blessed by the presence of these folks…and I mean that….their witness is invaluable…but I do fear that sometimes this tends to make us more about what we are not than what we actually are.

    Some, like +Spong, push off so hard from their fundamentalist upbringing that the kinetic force sends them somewhere beyond our atmosphere.

    Grace and Peace,

  16. bls

    So much really good and effective Christian mysticism has come out of the monastic tradition and its important to realize that these people weren’t just hanging out in the woods popping ‘shrooms all day–rather, their mysticism takes place in the context of the Sacraments and the Office which are very grounding things.

    That’s a really good point, Derek. Didn’t somebody recently say that “Anglicanism is Benedictine spirituality institutionalized?” Did I read this here on this blog?

    I was reading somewhere else – in a music review, maybe? – that only in Anglicanism are Psalms so central. Is this true, do you know?

    Joe, I think you’re right about the refugees from more conservative or authoritarian denoms. But that point makes it important that we should try to emphasize the “good and effective Christian mysticism” Derek is talking about. Perhaps that is what we really are about, no?

  17. Anastasia

    sol invictus and mithras have an unnatural hold over men who study late antiquity. I swear if there were a functioning modern version, my director would be the first to sign up.

    this baffles me.

  18. Caelius

    I was reading somewhere else – in a music review, maybe? – that only in Anglicanism are Psalms so central. Is this true, do you know?

    Traditional Calvinist (Reformed…) worship is primarily focused on preaching and the singing of the psalms in meter. I’ve never understood why.

  19. Derek the Ænglican

    Come on, Anastasia, boy’s club, bull blood, obscure rituals that probably involve spears and lots of drinking–how could this *not* be attractive? :-D

    bls–yes, *Christopher said that a few comments up and in other places. I first heard it from a fabulous Anglo-Catholic rector in Columbus; it was one of the things that really got under my skin and ultimately convinced me that I wasn’t Lutheran. The Psalms and Offices are such an important part of my life and spirituality and in the Lutheran tradition they really…aren’t. The mainspring of authentic traditional Lutheran spirituality, I’d argue, is in the movement’s hymnody: Luther, Gerhardt, Nicolai, etc. The Offices are only now making inroads but are a recent addition, not an integral part.

    Joe’s got a great point. ECUSA often seems like the church for people recovering from authoritarian and doctriniare ecclesial bodies. I like it in that we are a church that is open and gives people space to explore and to do worship without being rigidly confessional. What scares me a little is that we sometimes gaet a backlash in the form of a knee-jerk against any kind of doctrine or official theologies. That is one of the things that has precipitated the current crisis, IMO–recovering evangelicals and fundamentalists dealing with a community which still contains said folks. And when these groups tangle it does and has gotten very ugly…

    Hardline Calvinists do hold to the Psalms and will only recognize metrical psalters as legitimate hymns for the church’s worship. This arose as a backlash against the perceived non-Scriptural nature of Catholic Reformation era hymnody much of which was deemed too focused on the saints, particularly the BVM. It’s worth remembering that this is a significant part of our history as well. For quite a while Anglicans would only use the Psalms or metrical versions of them. Ironically, the first hymnal compiled by an Anglican that went further afield an included non-Scriptural texts was one compiled by–John Wesley who had learned so much from the strength of German Pietist hymnody (going back to my point above…).

  20. Joe

    Good points folks. A “good and effective Christian mysticism?” I like that…in part because it also squares with the fact that while much of the Christian Church is focused on the ‘beauty of Truth,” we Anglicans have often been the ones content to live in the “Truth of beauty.” To some, that sounds vapid…but to those who have experienced its transcendance…connected to the “grounding” that Derek mentions…well it just works. Like someone once said, poets don’s go mad, scientists do.

    Grace and Peace,

  21. DixieAmazon

    I am ex-Church of Christ and my husband is a cradle Episcopalian. He initially described Episcopalians as ‘Catholics with perks’.

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