On Sunday, the Episcopal Church invests its new Presiding Bishop and Chief Pastor. Bishop Michael Curry has promised to honor and include all minority groups within the church. Certainly, the menu for what we used to term an enthronement includes everyone from Native Americans to Muslim leaders. However, there’s one significant and growing minority that won’t be represented, won’t be in the congregation at the National Cathedral or for that matter in their local parish church. They have no leadership, no organization and no web site or Facebook page. Perhaps we should call them the X factor.
I’m not referring to another group of activists. They haven’t formed a rival church or joined an existing denomination. They constitute the most difficult group to penetrate. They are Ex-Episcopalians. That definition needs refining. They aren’t the perennial disgruntled, who inflict themselves on church after church, picking fights with all in general and the priest in particular. They aren’t among those who leave in indignation because their views on the correct placing of candlesticks were rejected. The mystical numbers and terms, ’28, ’79, Rite 1 or 2, EOW or LEHS mean nothing much and the place of the altar is a matter indifferent.
These people slipped away, almost unnoticed, quietly hurting. They are to be found on Sundays in their gardens, or in bed. In smaller communities, they are sometimes encountered in the grocery store or family restaurant. When nervously told they are missed, they smile and swiftly change the conversation.
Did they leave about women priests or gay marriage or new liturgies? Not necessarily. They left because they hate conflict and faction. They no more want to be members of the Society for a Pure Church than the Pressure Group for Sexual Excitement. One sermon too far about the wickedness of Progressives, or the deadly sins of Traditionalists, drove them out. That last experiment with yet another trial liturgy, at a moment in their lives when familiarity and memorized language were desperately needed caused them to give up, their souls and spirits ruined.
In time of need, they found their priest too busy attending meetings in support of a Cause to notice them, let alone give them a call, drop them an email, or, heaven forfend, visit them at home or even in hospital. Perhaps the parish leadership was too busy organizing church growth and evangelism to notice their absence. Thus, they’ve joined the ranks of the “unchurched,” usually described as unreachable, a statistic noted annually and spun out of mind. “The Church is smaller but leaner,” we are told. “They joined ACNA,” which, if that were true, ACNA would soon become mainstream. Because they have not allied to a faction they are tepid and have been “spewed out.” In that they are not activists, they are morally inept.
They once were in church each Sunday, perhaps helped with coffee hour, helped feed the poor, washed the altar linens, sang in the choir, gave their pledge and worshiped quietly. Now, driven out by conflicting revisionists, left and right, they have left the House of Battle. They won’t be included in our broad tent or remembered in Washington on Sunday. They are the Xs and no good shepherd seeks to find them and bring them home rejoicing.