According to the Report of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church, between 2001 and 2013, the Average Sunday Attendance of the average Episcopal Church has fallen from 80 to 61, a 24% decline in twelve years. Twelve years? Where have I heard that number before?
“Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.” Mark 5:25
It may seem crude and crass to compare the state of the Episcopal Church with the struggle of the hemorrhagic woman, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an apt comparison. Over the course of twelve years, thanks to our very public internal struggles over human sexuality, a growing culture of unaffiliated nones, and, as the State of the Church Report says, “The advanced — and still advancing — age of the Church’s membership, combined with a low birth rate, means that the Church loses the equivalent of one diocese per year through deaths over births” The Episcopal Church has, on the whole, been hemorrhaging members for a dozen years.
The hemorrhagic woman lives on the margins, she is destitute, she is desperate for healing and so she does the only thing she can think of, she reaches out to touch Jesus. In the midst of such a large crowd, all she can manage to do is get a finger on the hem of his robe, and immediately her bleeding stopped. Jesus turns to her, realizing what she has done, and says these most powerful words, “Your faith has made you well.”
How I long to hear those words from Jesus for my beloved Episcopal Church. The Living Church published an article yesterday entitled, “Jesus for Presiding Bishop,” in which they argue that the “walk-about” with the Presiding Bishop Nominees showed that The Episcopal Church is ready to return to and outward and visible faith in Jesus. It isn’t so much that we haven’t had faith in Jesus all along, but more that we’ve been so preoccupied elsewhere that we’ve nearly forgotten about it, which is, to my mind, the true source of our decline.
Our faith can make us well, but we must be willing to put our faith in nothing less than the saving love of God through Jesus Christ. Doing so will change our lives individually and our culture corporately. We need not be afraid of the name of Jesus, but in his name, be willing to be healed, and through his name, be willing to be saved, and using his name, be willing to share the Good News. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to reach the hem of his garment and find our bleeding stopped. Won’t you join with me in praying for the renewal of the Church?