Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A plea to help a dying institution live

George Parmeter is the Rector at Grace Episcopal Church in Huron, SD.

I was touched by his personal testimony and his concern for the church, expressed in his most recent parish newsletter. He's largely free of clergy jargon and just writes from the heart in a way anybody should be able to understand.

George will serve as one of South Dakota's Deputies at the Episcopal Church General Convention, which will take place in Anaheim, California this July.

Posted here with George's permission:

I inherited a hand carved wooden box of almost a hundred paper wrapped hand-made marbles, some almost 200 years old worth several thousand dollars when I was 42. The only thing I know about them is that they were my father’s. Why each marble is significant, where they came from, who gave them, why they are in the box, are unknown. I often wish I knew the story of each marble for they are a part of my past whose story I will never be able to share.

Jesus gave us the story of his life, death, and resurrection to share but often we leave it to the clergy to tell. Episcopalians are known as elitists, the church of the wealthy, and a church whose members don’t believe in or practice Evangelism. An article published around 20 years ago stated that the average Episcopalian invites someone to church once every 27 years. We know there are people out there who need the love of Christ in their lives but often ignore them.

One of the things I learned in grade school was that I was not as good as others kids because my father was born out of wedlock. I remember a Sunday School teacher telling our class that people who had sex and were not married were going to hell. It was especially cruel when she said that their children would also. I quit going to that church because of the cruelty and lies.

I am an Episcopalian because someone noticed that I was hurting and invited me to church. A wonderful woman I didn’t know, showed me how to use the Prayer Book during the service when my friend left me to serve at the altar. These were two people who were willing to not only tell the story of Jesus, but live it out by taking care of a hurting 12 year old boy. They made me feel wanted and welcome.

The Episcopal Church once had the reputation of being a wonderful welcoming church, but in the last 4 decades has suffered incredible losses.

I am saddened over the amount of time and energy spent fighting over scriptural interpretation, Prayer Books, sexual issues, clergy identity, and change on the national level. Understanding and forgiveness is often put aside over political, sexual, social, and spiritual issues. At times we are more famous for our craziness and fighting than anything else. On local levels we worry about service length, money, power issues, the clergy, our relationship to the diocese and national church, and why we are not growing, especially when we don’t evangelize.

General Convention will look at a report that addresses a major weakness of Episcopalians - adult education. The Report encourages a life-long learning process because most adult Episcopalians do not study scripture or church theology, which results in poor evangelism by the laity, a lack of understanding how the church works, a negative outlook, and poor behavior.

We are each called to a mission and ministry to tell the story of Jesus, what he means to us, and not to let our faith stories become forgotten and meaningless like those marbles. Our church will never grow or be a peaceful loving entity if people do not care to learn what Christ really wants them to do. We are being asked to resume learning about Christ and the Church as adults, to not let our knowledge of Christ and his call on how to live end with our childhood Sunday school and confirmation experiences.

Future generations deserve more than to inherit a meaningless Gospel, or to be saddled with a dying institution because we are too busy to make it live for them.

George ministers faithfully in Huron, despite the departure of some businesses and local population declines that have impacted his church. He also takes time to care for a small congregation in DeSmet, a town you might recognize from some of Laura Ingalls Wilder's writings. George travels by motorcycle when the road and weather conditions permit.


The Underground Pewster said...

Lifelong education is central for evangelists to be produced from a church. It is impossible to present an effective apologetic with a foundation based mostly on what is heard during Sunday services. Both clergy and laity must be ready to put forth the effort required to produce meaningful Christian education across a broad spectrum of newcomers and old curmudgeons.

A farmers lot is not easy. There is planning, tilling, planting, nurturing to be done. And all along there must be prayer. If you do it, the harvest will come. Let us remember, as today's lectionary readings tell us, to present the first fruits of the harvest to the Lord.

TLF+ said...

Amen, Pewster! We are coming into that long "green" season - the church is about life and growth!

That reading from Deuteronomy is right on target. Any wonder the church is withering?