It really has me thinking about my ministry gifts and how to use them. Is there room in TEC for people who like to help congregations grow, or is that for "those other churches"? Let me share an intriguing case study:
Fr. Jerry Cimijotti used to be Rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Mitchell. He left in 2005. As you can see from TEC's statistics site, St. Mary's has suffered an aggregate decline of membership and attendance over the last reported decade. (A new Rector with some energy came, and the attendance has come back up a bit, but not to the 2002 level).
Looking at the stats, one might infer that Jerry was not much of a leader. He went to a small church and it got smaller. But is that fair?
- + Notice that the decline which preceded Jerry's departure began in 2003. That is the year in which TEC ignored widespread warnings and consecrated a gay activist as Bishop of New Hampshire. Across the church, conflict and decline accelerated.
- + And where did Jerry go? To Spokane, WA in one of the least religious parts of the country. And in that less-than-friendly setting, he helped develop a congregation, Christ the King Anglican Church, from three families to a viable parish that is now planting a second congregation.
One of the under (actually, un-) reported stories in the Anglican/Episcopalian upheavals is that TEC has isolated, alienated and in many cases lost its clergy most gifted and passionate for evangelism, church planting, congregational development and growth.
The denomination has favored clergy who represent or symbolize "causes", without regard to leadership gifts or skill. There is much talk of "clergy self-care", pension entitlements for mid-life clergy vocations, mandatory financial assessments to fund diocesan and denominational bureaucracy and superstructure, and other clericalism while congregations stagnate and decline.
A powerful current example of this bad choice is Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco. It has suffered horrific declines in recent years. The interim Rector is retired Bishop Otis Charles, known for "marrying" his male partner and for his past advocacy of narcotics as an aid to "spirituality." Despite its historic presence in a large urban center, and the presence of a gay rector in a gay-friendly city, Trinity is on the verge of closing, as its congregation has become too small to make needed earthquake retrofits.
TEC is enthralled with the idea that making a media splash leads to church development, and with the deadly assumption that the church is property and positions instead of people. On top of this, denominational leaders drop hints that only a few people are even qualified to be Episcopalians: "Episcopalians tend to be better educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations...We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the Earth and not use more than their portion."
Meanwhile, Jerry Cimijotti is a significant leader in the development of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), a controversial but emerging group to which over 10% of TEC's active members have gone. ACNA has become a refuge for many of the clergy who were TEC's most effective leaders for evangelism and congregational growth.