By Joseph Wolyniak
The 1611 Authorized Version beautifully rendered Jude’s exhortation to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). That remains our charge. Yet it is necessary to admit — indeed, confess — that we have largely failed in the task of transmission. We are perilously close to a faith that was simply once delivered, full stop.
The average Episcopalian is almost wholly biblically illiterate, lacking a general sense of Scripture’s narrative arc and knowing only enough historical criticism to dismiss scriptural integrity, authority, and relevance. Many among us would be hard-pressed to tell Malachi from Maccabees from Matthew; forget reading, marking, and inwardly digesting. And there is wide variance in our common prayer, with many opting to do what is right in their own eyes. When it comes to catechesis, we fall back on appeals to lex orandi, lex credendi, but we forget that such appeals presume, as St. Prosper of Aquitaine put it, “the sacraments of priestly supplication, handed down by the apostles, are celebrated uniformly throughout the whole world and in every catholic Church, so that the law of praying might establish the law of believing.”
Perhaps this is not unique in the history of the Church. No less unique is the Church’s continual commitment to redoubling its formational and reformational efforts — ecclesia semper reformanda est. To properly form, we will need to reform.
The good news is that the Church always contains the seeds of its revival. Our prayer book’s emphasis on the ministry of all the baptized, for instance, is a gift we have only begun to open. We must continue to explore implications of the common font, as the collapse of cultural Christianity strains priest-centric parochial formation. Developing more and better approaches to forming the whole body of Christ is imperative. While bishops and priests must live out their vocations as teachers, the whole Church needs to better identify, equip, and employ those with obvious charisms for catechesis — especially laity and deacons — and demonstrate how the proper terminus of formation is not presbyteral ordination.
Finally, we must expunge our nagging congregationalism and live into Anglican catholicity, marked by an open ecumenism and preferential option for the poor. From each as able to all as have need, better-resourced parishes and dioceses are called to solidarity with the wider Church — especially communities lacking access to quality formational materials or teachers.
The challenges before us are real. But we are, after all, a people of hope. And we look not to ourselves, but “unto him that is able to keep [us] from falling” (Jude 20, KJV).
The Rev. Joseph Wolyniak (2012 ECF Academic Fellow) is the Episcopal chaplain at Princeton University.
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One question, eight reflections
This is the conclusion of eight essays in which The Living Church and the Episcopal Church Foundation asked eight of the foundation’s Fellows this question: How can we form faithful leaders for tomorrow’s Church?
The eight voices published here represent only a small cross-section of over 50 years’ worth of ECF Fellows whose work continues to focus on forming leaders for tomorrow’s Church.
ECF identifies and supports scholars and ministry leaders who are committed to forming the next generation of leaders, both in the seminary classroom and beyond seminary walls. The application process for the 2018 Fellowship is now open and the deadline is March 16. If you would like to learn more about becoming an ECF Fellow, be sure to visit the ECF website.