The title of this blog is also the title of a nostalgic popular song about the 1950s. For those of us who
came of age in this decade, it takes us back in time to sock hops, white buck shoes, big bands and a girlfriend who wore pleated skirts and cashmere sweaters. It also takes us back in time to the church of this decade, when Christian churches were either full or almost full on Sunday mornings. World War II veterans, many having gone to college on the GI Bill, married their sweethearts, got a decent job, started a family and joined and attended a church. This was the Eisenhower era of "peace and prosperity" despite his warnings about the military-industrial complex. Sermons seemed to be either about the eschatalogical fulfillment of the Kingdom of God now or a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Episcopal Church was no exception. Our churches were full too. We were mainly a church of the upper middle class or the wealthy. Many of the community leaders, industrialists, leading business people in town, politicians and professionals were members of The Episcopal Church. Many of our clergy came from these same groups and were sophisticated and well-connected. We also had our share of middle class and poor folks too, but they were not the majority.
When I was ordained in 1961, there was still a marvelous carryover from the fifties and the future of TEC looked good. We had one Holy Communion service and our members could be certain that anywhere they worshipped, the liturgy would always be the same. Consistency, uniformity and Via Media were the hallmarks of our faith. The vast majority of our clergy were seminary trained and there was even a shortage of priests. We knew the service by heart and we were respected members of the community. As Archie Bunker so plaintively sang, "those were the days."
Things began to fall apart in the mid to late sixties. The church moved from emphasizing a personal relationship with God through the Sacramental life to a horizontal stress on positive and equitable human relationships. The church did some great things under this umbrella. We worked diligently for civil rights of women and minorities, we protested the Viet Nam War, we introduced new worship services and we became purveyors of positive human relationships. All of these things were good to do, but we went over the edge as they became the official guiding policy of the national church and many dioceses.
Demographics aside, these were the principle internal changes that fostered a climate of decline for TEC. Here I am not judging or second guessing the church of the sixties. After all, I was active in and supported all those ministries. But I am merely stating the obvious. The less we stressed our relationship to the Holy Trinity through the Sacraments, teaching and pastoral ministries of the church, the more we declined. However, I am not suggesting that we return to the church of the fifties. We can never go back. But I do have an idea. If we are going to "reinvent" the church for the 21st century, perhaps we could look back to that more docile time and recapture some core principles upon which to build our future church. Are you ready? Here we go.
1. While we will probably never have one liturgy again, we can present carefully crafted worship services, minimizing informality and refraining from extraneous comment. Emphasize our relationship to God through prayer, the Sacraments, and personal relationships.
2. Preach lectionary based expository sermons that elicit of response of faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. Please minimize personal stories.
3. Instead of planning "seeker friendly services," seek to draw people into the very heart of God through excellent liturgy, utilizing good music and the arts. Believe me, small churches can do this too.
4. Tell your Bishop to encourage the House of Bishops and General Convention to drastically reduce Executive Council, make a Diocesan Bishop the Presiding Bishop and structure the national church in a way that stresses mission as the conversion of souls.
5. Appreciate our historic efforts to promote social justice but eliminate them as Executive Council Mission Statements.
6. Clergy, get out of your offices and do personal evangelism. Target your prospects and show people the way to God and how to have meaning in their lives through a personal relationship with Jesus. This may sound crass, but there is no shame in evangelizing the wealthy and upper middle class as well as the middle class and the poor.
7. Promote the unity of TEC in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
In no way are these suggestions meant to be taken as a panacea for TEC. None of my suggestions will in and of themselves reinvigorate and increase membership. But we do need a baseline and anchor for mission. Perhaps these and other "old" ideas can guide us as we try to practice obedience to the Lord, salvage what is left of TEC, and move us forward into the rest of this century.