Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The future of TEC

I am not forgetting a promise to post soon on why I believe that both TEC and ACNA have a place in the Anglican Communion sun, but time is not quite available to me yet. A moment or two is available to observe that interesting questions emerge from the GC at Anaheim about the future of TEC (as, indeed, they do about each western Anglican church these days ... we all seem to struggle with falling numbers and diminishing funds). But the TEC future is at least especially interesting in this way: there is a view I have come across that goes like this, the hesitancy of the Archbishop of Canterbury to lead a strict application of the Windsor Report, Primates communiques and the like, is due to the (understandable) hesitancy of the Anglican Communion leadership to bite the hand (TEC) which feeds it. So if TEC's future is blooming and rosy, it is likely to share the blessing with the Communion. But if there is a different future ...? Indeed, paradoxically for critics of TEC, the controversial resolution D025 includes commitment to TEC's financial support of the Communion.

What of the future of TEC? A church with a budget of $141,271,984.00 (for the next three years) is not going to cease existence before its next triennial convention! Nevertheless, this budget figure, astronomical for a tiny church such as my own, is much diminished on its initial draft of $161,791,177. The difference between draft and final budget has seen various national ministries cut, including TEC's office of evangelism. I assume some of this diminishment is due to the recession's impact on investments. Some I also assume is due to diminished expectations about parishioner's contributions in weekly offertories.

A.S. Haley at Anglican Curmudgeon makes some careful observations about the situation. Here I present three of them. (Incidentally, he has a special interest in his blog on the litigation cases proceeding between TEC and departing churches, so the costs of litigation in the budget receive repeated attention below).

Will TEC's reinforcement of openness to gay and lesbian bishops, and to sanctioned blessings of same-sex couples grow its numbers or decrease them?

"5. With the collective change in mind, the commitment to restraint is now solely on a bishop-by-bishop and standing committee-by-standing committee basis. The confirmation of the election of a practicing LGBT to the episcopate in ECUSA will happen when it happens --- but it will happen; and the blessing and celebration of same-sex unions will continue at a now-quickened pace.

6. The acid test of this outcome, brought to you by Integrity and the other activists in ECUSA, will be what happens to the attendance figures by the time of GC 2012. Susan Russell+ claims the numbers will increase; Father Tim Fountain is already reporting exactly the opposite. We shall see, and the numbers will not lie (unless they change the method of counting by then)."

The costs of schism are real costs: litigation and sustaining of re-constituted dioceses are included in the budget.

"7. The budget for the triennium 2009-12 is reduced by $23 million, but still includes $3 million earmarked for litigation against departing dioceses and bishops, and still more money earmarked for support for the remnant groups who cannot sustain themselves as Dioceses on their own."

TEC's final budget is such a reduction on the draft budget that the question of a possible downward trend cannot be avoided:

"8. The thing to notice about the numbers is their trends. The budget is shrinking overall, as are the expected contributions from Dioceses from 2009 to 2012. Meanwhile, the Budget Committee was compelled to increase the item for litigation over the next triennium from $1.8 million to $3 million, and the financial support required for the remnants to hang on while their litigation is being carried on for them will increase as well. The staff of ECUSA is losing 37 positions, but Goodwin Procter is hiring more attorneys, and the Presiding Bishop is not cutting her own personal litigation consultant --- whom she has to help her in addition to her Chancellor."

If more parishes and dioceses leave TEC, their litigation and support-for-re-constituted dioceses are likely to increase, and contributions decrease further. None of this means the imminent demise of TEC, but surely there must come a point when TEC support for the Anglican Communion is affected by these developments? I imagine that TEC's national office will be intensely interested in attendance and giving figures over the next three years. Another $20 million reduction in its budget would be a sobering prospect, not only for the ministries that would be curtailed, but also for the questions which arise about whether the direction in mission it is pursuing through resolutions such as D025 and C056 has been correctly chosen.

My interest in these things in respect of ACANZP is this: I believe that if we formally pursue through General Synod resolution a similar course to TEC we will lose parishioners. Sometimes it is right to stand the potential loss of parishioners through standing for what is right and true. But in the particular case of ordination and liturgies for people in same-sex relationships, it is not crystal clear that this is a matter of what is right and true. It is also possible that a church could pursue such a pathway of 'inclusion' in respect of such matters that it goes out of existence. At that point all are excluded! Is that the right and true thing to do?

The converse is important here. Very important. If TEC can grow its numbers (and increase its budget) then it offers hope not only to itself, but also to its admirers (and, in broad terms, I think ACANZP is one of those). Hope, that is, that a particular liberal, progressive course of action in respect of inclusiveness is a fruitful sowing of gospel seed.

Thus the future of TEC is a matter of great interest abroad!

PS On the recurring question of whether TEC is orthodox or not, I note this paragraph in the blog report of the Bishop of Nevada, Dan Thomas Edwards:

"We had some opportunities to depart from the traditional faith of the church. There were resolutions deleting the word “virgin” from descriptions of Mary in our prayers and authorizing alternative forms of the Baptismal Covenant. We did not do these things. The bishops and deputies were emphatically orthodox."


Dave Clancey said...

Hi Peter
Thanks for your comments and thoughts. There's no question that the events of the past few weeks - on both sides of the Atlantic - will eventually have implications for us in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

I'm intrigued by your last comment though - "The converse is important here. Very important. If TEC can grow its numbers (and increase its budget) then it offers hope not only to itself, but also to its admirers (and, in broad terms, I think ACANZP is one of those). Hope, that is, that a particular liberal, progressive course of action in respect of inclusiveness is a fruitful sowing of gospel seed."

I may have read you wrong, but your post seems to assume that financial and numerical growth equals a fruitful sowing of the gospel seed, and that said growth is the aim of the church. I wonder if such an assessment places pragmatism over and above our task of faithful proclamation? Without doubt God will sovereignly grow his church, and grow it through the gospel, but fruitful doesn’t necessarily mean faithful. And it seems to me that we are called to faithfulness, trusting in God to provide the fruitfulness.

In my limited experience one of the reasons put forward for the full inclusion of all the baptised (irrespective of anything) is not that it will swell churches and coffers, but that it is consistent with the gospel of love, inclusion and embrace that its proponents read in the Bible. I recall being at a retreat and speaking to a self-confessed liberal minister (from another denomination). He was lamenting the decline in numbers in his church, and made the comment that all traditional churches were in decline. I suggested that wasn't the case - many churches are growing, albeit those which are generally more conservative. His response amazed me. "I would rather shut up shop than become like them."

For me, even if TEC saw exponential growth, it would not justify such a denial of the faith once for all entrusted to the saints.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Dave
I think the emphasis in my point falls more on the word 'hope'. If those in liberal churches are discouraged by the poor numbers turning up to worship each week, then a church somewhere which boldly preaches the liberal gospel and sees increase in numbers would offer hope to discouraged liberal churches that a corner might be turned in the near future. As you know we have a number of declining liberal churches in NZ, so an increase in TEC's numbers post-2009 would be an encouragement to them.

But I acknowledge the way I worded that sentence looks like I equate 'fruitful' with 'faithful' when, as you point out, the relationship between the two is a little more complex!