COLUMBUS, OH: Evangelism Low Priority for Episcopalians
By Hans Zeiger
COLUMBUS, OHIO (6/16/06)-The Episcopal Convention this week passed a resolution of "mission priorities" for the church's budget, identifying "Justice and Peace" as the top priority. A proposed amendment in the House of Deputies to make evangelism the first priority was defeated.
According to a recent Gallup survey, Episcopalians are the least likely Christians in America to attend church every week. As the average Sunday attendance of the Episcopal Church continues its rapid decline, and as the average age of Episcopalians continues its increase, both houses of the Episcopal Convention determined that "Justice and Peace" was the more important activity of the church.
"Justice and Peace" gives special attention to the eight Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, which include the eradication of "extreme poverty and hunger," "universal primary education," the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, and the reduction of child mortality.
Even as the Episcopal Church aims to reduce child mortality, it continues to endorse the practice of abortion. One proposed liturgy in the Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music includes a prayer entitled "Following the Termination of Pregnancy."
And due in part to the failure of Episcopalians to raise children or to keep them in the church, the second priority of the Episcopal Church is "Young Adults, Youth and Children." The description of the second priority is, "Reaching out to young adults, youth and children through intentional inclusion and full incorporation in the thinking, work, worship and structure of the Church."
The third priority is "Reconciliation and Evangelism," followed by "Congregational Transformation," described as "Revitalizing and transforming congregations through commitment to leadership development, spiritual growth, lifelong learning, dynamic and inclusive worship, greater diversity, and mission."
The final priority is "Partnerships," which means "Reaffirming the importance of our partnerships with provinces of the Anglican Communion and beyond and our relationships with ecumenical and interfaith partners."
The Rev. Kevin Martin, a deputy from Texas and Executive Director of Vital Church Ministries, spoke to the House of Deputies on Thursday, criticizing the Episcopal Church for its failure to prioritize evangelism. "I can assure you that it is not easy to be an advocate for evangelism in the Episcopal Church," he said, recalling the power of the Gospel in his own conversion and ministry. "I want this church to make evangelism a passion and a priority."
"While we continue our steady decline as a denomination," a growing sense of spirituality and a longing for truth takes place in the nation, according to Martin. Yet "the only place we don't find it is in the church."
Not only is the church unable to attract and retain young people, its identity is firmly attached to an older generation of Americans, Martin suggested. "The average age of an Episcopalian is 59 plus years, but even more tragically the average age of a graduating seminarian is 48 plus years of age...Without medicine and technology there will be no Episcopal Church by the year 2020."
After his speech to the House of Deputies, Martin spoke with Virtue Online. "The Episcopal Church preoccupies itself with a lot of things that are not central to the Gospel, and it has not demonstrated a wholehearted commitment to evangelism and the 20/20 Task Force." The 20/20 Task Force would double Episcopal Church attendance by 2020, but it remains a low priority.
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