In the Faith section of the Saturday Kansas City Star, two articles caught my attention. The one article was about the growing number of part time and unpaid clergy positions, featuring a number of those in the Episcopal Church including Mark Marmon, a fly-fishing instructor and unpaid Episcopal priest (or nearly so),Hitchcock, TX of All Saints’ Church. The other article was about the growing phenomenon of “culture” rather than faith practicing Jews. “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” by the Pew Research Center indicates that 62% of U.S, Jews surveyed found their Jewishness in cultural values and 15% about religious belief. And then on the same page, a far smaller few lines was on endearing quotes from Pope Francis, ones of solid, humble Christian faith witness. On the next page over, the number of advertisements for religious service occupied 15 to 20% of the printed areas whereas when I first moved here in 2001, probably 75% of the page was ads, if not more. . .
The landscape of the national and global religious environment has been shifting in my life time since the 1960’s, but the last ten years has been “fast forward.” In my own Diocese of Kansas, we just have inaugurated a seminary in Topeka serving these very same part timers for all of Kansas, West Missouri and Nebraska for occasional and monthly courses, much like what has been happening in Texas for some time. Of course just about all Christian denominations are facing the part time ministry phenomenon because many of our and all denominations’ lay persons are more or less part time themselves, just trailing the Jews and Europeans in general but moving down the same decline. And now occasionally we see the once stellar mega churches folding, as we have locally, as their slice of the lay pie was always based on numbers of folk whose commitments were never really very long term and where no work was ever much done to create reserve trusts or endowments for those inevitable “lean years.” And many established, endowed congregations have withered their reserves for “keeping up appearances” as Mrs.Bucket used to do on her British tv series. My former parish of St. James in Wichita had a trust that I did much to protect of about $1.8million when I left in ‘01 and now has something over $400,000, but that loss is hardly unique among many congregations, dioceses and adjudicatory bodies. General Seminary and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC are commercializing good size chunks of their land to hold out for “better times,” as 815 2nd Ave. rents out about ¾’s of its space. Many years ago, I was talking with a major fund raising company about St. John the Divine whose research profile of it indicated that by the 1980’s much of the new money they got for projects came from Jews,not Episcopalians, who understood the cultural importance of that institution while wealthy Episcopalians had grown weary of various social tirades coming from the Cathedral location. What an interesting turn of social identity, secular Jews supporting our institutional grandeur. Well, better that than nothing to say the least. . .
I am certain some sort question must be arising in the mind of the reader concerning toward what the writer is pointing. The writer is not certain either. . . Some days this author’s very human feelings are so confused by the many turns of events not only of the Church but of the many levels of American governments that seem hell bent to self destruction, of mindless but sober drivers looking at their phones swerving in front of me in full daylight, of my own issues about aging leading toward those concerns around my own “last days.” I just wonder, pray and do what may at last be the final resort of a spiritual journey. . . surrender myself to the will and grace of God as I have tried to understand it through the Christian witness of my beloved Episcopal Church. . . I hope to find hope. And you?