The Episcopal Church
2008 was the year that the situation in the Episcopal church finally reached a boiling point. Episcopalians have been in decline for decades especially starting in the 1970’s when they began to ordain women as priests. With the creation Gene Robinson, a man who left his wife for another man, as bishop of New Hampshire, the church really began to unravel. For some years now, groups of Anglo-Episcopalians have been separating from the official Episcopal organization in the US, but now entire dioceses have officially announced their separation: Forth Worth, Pittsburgh and Quincy.
Perhaps the most severe break was in Pittsburgh: “Approximately 27 congregations, or about 40% of the Pittsburgh Diocese prior to the October separation, remain active in the life of the Episcopal Church.”
It is important for Catholics to keep an eye on this since many Episcopalians, including some clergy have come into the Catholic Church where they should be welcomed home. Also, the movement within the Episcopal church can provide a glimpse of what will happen, and has happened within the Catholic Church if certain ideas take hold. The ordination of women is sometimes seen as inevitable and somehow ‘liberating’ to women. Forgetting the faulty theology for a minute, the ordination of women is also seen as the solution to the vocations crisis. Here is where the situation of the Episcopalians is instructive. The ordination of women in the Episcopal Church has not increased the membership in the church nor has it meant an overflow of clergy. The ordination of actively gay men has not helped either. In fact, Episcopalians are hemorrhaging members as the number of defections within the US grows.
For examples close to home, the Episcopal church in Levittown closed down some years ago and one congregation in Queens completely left the Diocese. The two churches around my childhood hometown of Massapequa do not have resident priests.
The reactions of Episcopalians to the situation (denial) is also instructive and I believe mirrors the reactions of many Catholics, particularly religious, to the loss of active Mass going members in the Catholic Church. One thing many Catholics and Episcopalians share is absolute denial of the negative effects of straying from the path of orthodoxy. As the number of both Church going Catholics and the number of religious declined incredibly from 1960-1980, there were and are many Catholics who say anything but the truth: orthodox theology, teaching, and living attracts people, heterodoxy and giving in to whatever is popular at the time does not attract worshipping,