Having posted about such concerns on this blog many times under the heading of "Anomic Anglicanism", I cannot help but quote Fr. Robert at length. He just says it all so much better than I ever could:
I joined a church that valued tradition and yet was engaged with modernity. I joined a church that embraced the timelessness of dignity and beauty. I joined a church that was engaged theologically and reasonably rather than emotionally in issues of doctrine and order. I joined a church that was a true blend of Catholic and Reformed. I joined a church that valued the uniformities of the Prayer Book even as it explored how to plumb its depths in manifold ways. I joined a church that was sacramentally grounded. I joined a church that believed that how we pray says something about what we believe.
Just as when I went to General [Seminary], finding the Episcopal Church was a joy and it felt exactly like where I was called to be. I felt at home and it was a place that made sense because there was a there there.
I am not sure where the there is now.
As I talk to priests too happy to ignore rubrics and ordination vows to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church because they have decided their sense of “welcome” is more important than the church’s call to common identity,
as I attended a Diocesan Convention at which we sang treacly hymns with narcissistic lyrics,
as I talk to priests in pitch battles in their dioceses about baptizing in the name of the Trinity,
as I attend Eucharists where priests make up the Eucharistic Prayer on the spot (“meal of power” not Body and Blood and “the systems of the world are broken” at the Fraction),
and as I watch the Church one more time hurtle into a divisive squabble, I am feeling profoundly out of place.
The Church that is slashing funding for Christian formation and youth ministry while hurtling toward “Open Communion” is not the Church I thought I was joining. The Church that has a diocesan convention at which we sing “Shine, Jesus Shine” and ignore the Prayer Book is not the Church I thought I was joining. The Church that is defining sainthood as anyone who has done something good and worthy rather than someone who has done good and worthy things because of their faith in Christ is not the Church I thought I was joining.
The “debate” over Communion without Baptism is opening, for me, a sense of cognitive and spiritual dissonance. It is one part of a broader shift. There are wonderful churches that do manifold things differently than the Episcopal Church. You can make up Eucharistic prayers, communicate anyone who walks through the door, and baptize in the name of whatsoever contortion you wish to make of the Trinity, you can do all of that in other traditions, churches, and faith communities.
That is not what we have done. It is not what marks us as a Church. It is not what gives us an identity. Those things are part of the life of other traditions.
My question for people who wish all of these things is “Why this Church?” Why choose this tradition when those things are available free of charge and canonical responsibility in other places? I would suggest that we are having difficulties as an Episcopal Church because we are, in too many ways and places, forgetting how to be Episcopalians. ...
I realize that perhaps I joined my idea of the Episcopal Church rather than its actuality. ...
There are boundaries within which one says “that is x.” In the past, we have used the Prayer Book to do just that. We have said, this is what we believe. Yet we are not only redefining “x,” we are deciding “x” is irrelevant. We no longer desire to have any sense of boundary, discipline, or conformity. Those things which mark us as a community and a people of faith are being undone with incredible rapidity. Over and over, I hear the language of the narcissistic world that wants its way right away creeping into the language of the Church.
What heart will be left? As we reconfigure the definition of sainthood, dismantle the Sacramental tradition we have been handed from the first Christian communities, ignore the Prayer Book, second guess canons on a parish by parish and priest by priest basis, and so much more, what heart will be left to the place?
A clergy colleague in another part of the Anglican world shared the following in response to Fr. Robert's posting:
Essentially discipline is breaking down ... in each sense of the word (learning, accountability, responsibility, restraint). There are signs of it in our church so I do not feel I am reading about this as in a better place. In the end the thing will have to continue to work its way into churches that collapse through lack of numbers.
It is precisely the breakdown of discipline in the Episcopal Church (and elsewhere) that fosters an ethos of tolerance for false teaching. I'm becoming increasingly aware that this ethos continues to make too many gifted and valued lay and clergy persons in this church decide that they can no longer in good conscience remain Episcopalians. But I've also been told by some that such collateral damage is the price for "progress" in Christianity.
Entering Holy Week with these thoughts on my heart, I am reminded of the portion of the Solemn Collects for Good Friday in which the Celebrant prays:
"Have compassion on all who do not know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; let your Gospel be preached with grace and power to those who have not heard it; turn the hearts of those who resist it; and bring home to your fold those who have gone astray; that there may be one flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord" (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 280).
Lord, have mercy upon us.