Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Size Matters

I've been watching the discussion on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv over the past week. They are talking about what size of parish is viable and what constitutes "acceptable" growth in a parish.

One of my listserv friends is in a huge urban parish. He wrote today:

I'm fortunate to live in a large city with a whole variety of Episcopal churches, almost one for anyone's liturgical or political tastes. . . . . In the big churches [here] people more or less pick their circle and their involvement. … People who attend [this parish] drive past several other Episcopal churches on their way downtown. They have myriad reasons for doing so, but I don't sense a great deal of competition among the big parishes for members.

I was struck by the contrast between his parish and mine. Here in my little town of 40,000, we are the only Episcopal Church in town. If you are an Episcopalian here, you can't go "parish-shopping" for a parish that will meet your liturgical and political taste. If you want a different flavor of Episcopal church, you must travel at least 30 miles … and none of the parishes within 90 miles will have a very different liturgical or political flavor than ours … though some will be even more low-church and conservative.

From time to time, I get to spend Sunday morning in St. Louis. When I do, I always go to a parish that is more politically progressive/liberal than mine and more Anglo-Catholic in its liturgy. I love it when I get to visit them. And I'm there often enough that some joke that I'm an "adjunct member" of that parish.

I am thankful that I sometimes get a "fix" at that urban parish that matches my liturgical and political sensibilities. … But I also think it's probably good that my home parish forces people to compromise and accommodate. In my home town, there is no option to "ghettoize" into like-minded Episcopalians. We are forced every day, every Sunday to live with tension.

I have shared this story with many of you. My priest preached a knock-out-of-the-park sermon on that Sunday in 2006 after General Convention had consented to Gene Robinson's election to the episcopate. My priest made the point that we had been forced into tolerance, because we in my parish cannot seek out parishes that reflect our particular politics and liturgical preferences.

I am of two minds. I can see the value in our perforce-tolerant parish. But I love it when I get to visit my "adjunct parish" in St. Louis. I see value in both.


Blogger Roberta Grey said...

Thank you Lisa for this post. It was something that I really needed to hear right now in my journey. I wish that I had an opportunity to travel more so that I too might get a "fix" once in awhile from a parish that offered me a chance to "stretch my wings" and open my mind spiritually without feeling chastized for doing so. For now, I will continue to worship in my own "sacred grove" and know that God is in control. Big Hugs and loving prayers dear sister.....

1/07/2009 6:39 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Well said Lisa. Our little hamlet of less than 3,000 also obviously only supports one Episcopal Church and I do appreciate the "blending" it encourages.

1/07/2009 9:41 AM  
Blogger Wormwood's Doxy said...

I feel a bit selfish now--I've always been able to choose a parish where I felt welcomed. I didn't need everyone in the parish to hold my views, but I didn't want to always be the progressive outlier...

That said, my progressive parishes have never been monolithic in their views. They have all been headed by women, so that certainly left out the more fundamentalist Episcopalians, but I've always knelt at the altar with a diverse group of people. We don't always agree on politics (secular or ecclesial), but we can all eat at the same table. And that, my friend, is grace in action.


1/07/2009 1:54 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Roberta, remember that I took a sabbatical from this church back in 2006 when it broke my heart. I hope you will come back. The place just isn't the same without you.

1/07/2009 9:48 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for understanding, Robert. I bet you could preach the sermon. ;-)

1/07/2009 9:49 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

You are lucky, Doxy.

But let me be clear: Even in the urban parishes I've visited, there has been diversity. It's just a WHOLE LOT wider here in this parish of mine.

I agree with you that there's something truly blessed in sharing communion with people who have diverse views.

1/07/2009 9:51 PM  
Blogger Lauralew said...

Living in DC for a couple of years I was exposed to several different types of parishes. In my town in SD, there aren't so many, and mainly (though not totally) socio-economic status, not theology (though certainly the former seems to inform the latter) is the determinant of where one goes to church.

I do like it when people think more of themselves as Episcopalians, rather than conservative or liberal when choosing a parish.

1/08/2009 7:19 AM  
Blogger Catherine + said...

In my parish [500] we have a handful that are more conservative than the rest of us, but they have chosen to stay because of the love my priest shows to them and all of us each Sunday and each day. They stay because they know they are loved, regardless of their views. We all kneel at the same rail and eat the same sacred meal. It is good to be loved and anointed with the balm of grace.

1/08/2009 8:59 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Amen to both of you, Lauralew & Catherine. I do believe it's about living with tension and difference, and still coming together in prayer and liturgy. No disagreement here! Perhaps I was oversimplifying when I talked about this in terms of parish size or demographics. Many of the comments here remind me that generous diversity can happen anywhere.

1/08/2009 7:50 PM  

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