Posts Tagged ‘institutional church’

Second Largest Church in the World

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

I had lunch yesterday with the Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is located on Amsterdam Avenue near Columbia University. Known as “St. John the Unfinished” because parts of it have never been completed according to the original divine, it is reputed to be second in size only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Maintaining such a huge edifice (and many accompanying buildings, including a school) is a task I can’t even imagine.

Yet cathedrals have in general fared better than the local parish church. In the Church of England, attendance at cathedrals has been growing while regular congregations are declining. People seem to enjoy the relative anonymity of the large buildings and the stately, even mystical worship–often accompanied by excellent music. St. John the Divine on large festivals greets crowds of 3,000 people.

I like to think that Incarnation shares some of the attractions of cathedrals. It is larger than many, seating 800 persons. We have a fine choir and formal liturgy. People can be pretty anonymous unless they want to be part of the parish family. All the better to welcome strangers in Christ’s name. —J. Douglas Ousley


Pie in the Sky

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

At a Men’s Group meeting last week, we discussed the Christian belief in life after death.

I chose this topic because I had been surprised recently by parishioner skepticism about their immortality. Several regular churchgoers told me they were uncertain whether they would survive the dissolution of their bodies–even though this faith is an important part of traditional doctrine.

My guess is that this questioning stems largely from the apparent lack of scientific evidence for life after death. Skeptics may also question the apparent selfishness of belief in “pie in the sky after you die.”

My response is, first, that there is some evidence for immortality (the mystery of consciousness, near-death visions of heaven). Second, this hope is not selfish but rather the natural hope of men and women who believe in a loving and omnipotent God. Our God will not allow his people to perish.

There is much more to be said on this topic. What seems certain is that the church should be discussing it! —J. Douglas Ousley


The Richness of Faith

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

The Anglican Communion has inherited what we call the “Catholic” tradition of liturgy and sacraments. I was particularly struck by the depths of this tradition last week, when I was involved in a funeral, an ordination to the priesthood, several celebrations of the holy eucharist, and a wedding.

Our Episcopal Church offers all these forms of worship and more. And the Prayer Book also includes many forms of individual prayer, as well as personal sacraments such as private confession and anointing of the sick.

We also permit a wide variety of understandings of these liturgies. At the wedding, perhaps 100 out of the 150 persons present elected to receive communion. We invite all baptized persons to communicate because we have a broad definition of the meaning of holy communion, and we hope that as many people as possible will feel included.

The Catholic tradition. The richness of faith. The gifts of God for the people of God. —J. Douglas Ousley


In Black and White

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

Much of the annual Convention of the Diocese of New York last weekend focussed on racial and gender prejudice. A play on slavery was presented and a special liturgy centered on the #MeToo Movement.

What was striking to me as a white male was how different the perceptions of persons of color and women were from my own. Where I saw progress in race relations, black delegates saw continuing inequality. Where I saw minor sexist gestures, women saw abusive actions.

It sometimes seemed to me as though there were two different realities. Of course, there aren’t–there is only one Reality, one Truth grounded in God.

But different perceptions do exist in our diverse mental worlds. And it’s up to me to try to understand the mental worlds of those who are suffering in today’s culture. —J. Douglas Ousley


Churchman

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

At the funeral of our Treasurer, last Saturday, I described Michael Linburn as “a good churchman.”

The term, “churchman” used to be common in Episcopal Church parlance; it referred to the way a person lived out his faith in the church community. So, for example, one would speak of an Episcopalian’s “churchmanship” in saying whether he preferred “high” or “low” ritual worship.

It’s too bad the word has gone out of fashion; it might have been made more acceptable by adding the variant, “churchwomanship.”

In any case, whatever word we use, we should be grateful for the churchmen and churchwomen who support the Body of Christ by their presence and their gifts. Especially those who support the Church through difficult times–who don’t give up when things don’t go their way, who prove to be the Church’s men and women. —J. Douglas Ousley


Top Heavy

Monday, July 9th, 2018

Apparently it was a priority, since it was one of the first resolutions passed. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church (#GC79) meeting  last week in Austin, Texas, agreed to pay the President of the House of Deputies for her work for the church. One estimate was a total cost to the church (in addition to money already being spent for staff and travel) of $300,000 a year.

The fact that she, like all other Presidents, had been working for free–the additional fact that the church was searching for money to plant churches and staunch its precipitous decline–the additional fact that the church already has a charismatic leader, the Presiding Bishop: all these facts were not enough to counter the “justice” argument that the chief representative of the priests and laypeople should get paid.

No doubt, there is much to be said for this move. But it seems to send a poor message to the church–especially to give the humble servant a $200K+ salary while churches are closing and many priests can’t be paid a full-time minimum stipend. —J. Douglas Ousley


In the Olde Country

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Yesterday, I returned from a brief trip to London. Among other things, I was there to represent the Diocese of New York at the Installation of the new bishop of our link Diocese of London on May 12.

The Rt. Rev. Susan Mullally was placed on her episcopal throne with pomp and efficiency by notables of the Church of England and the City of London. Contrasting this events with installations of past bishops of New York, I have two comments.

  1. The Church of England still has a significant following as the Established Church. The Lord Mayor of London was present for the service and hosted a reception afterwards. (He even entered and exited by his own door in the north wall of St. Paul’s Cathedral.) The church was packed and seats were available by ticket only. There was a lottery for the limited number available to the city at large. Seating has never been a problem in the Diocese of New York, and it is decades since a major of New York was present at an installation.
  2. Second, Bishop Mullally is the first female in her post, following 132 male Bishops of London. Some conservative Evangelical and Angl0-Catholic parishes apparently declined to berepresented at the service. Whether dissident parties who reject any ordination of women will eventually be reconciled with their new diocesan remains to be seen. —J. Douglas Ousley

Money and Religion

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Last night, I attended the annual dinner of the Church Club of New York, a social organization run by city Episcopalians.

The guest speaker was the Dean of Westminster Abbey, the Very Rev. John Hall. Among other things, he mentioned an enormous building project in the upper gallery of the Abbey. It is in process now and will cost over thirty-two million pounds (over forty million dollars).

This is an extreme example of the vast expenses incurred by any ecclesiastical body that has to maintain a historic building. Many such buildings in the UK–like the Abbey and St. Paul’s–have American supporters or “friends” to help underwrite the work.

While Incarnation’s building needs at the moment (about three hundred thousand dollars) are much smaller, our base of support is also smaller. In other words, we need all the friends we can get. —J. Douglas Ousley


GC 2018–Does Anyone Care?

Monday, March 12th, 2018

At a clergy luncheon today, I asked my colleagues what the issues were for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church that is having its triennial meeting this summer. My question was met with blank stares and a quick change of the topic.

Given the vast amounts of money spent on air fares, hotels, and meals for the Convention (16 delegates and alternates plus three bishops and staff just from the Diocese of New York alone), one would hope that the meeting would consider topics of importance to the Church. There will be some debate about liturgical revision, I know, and I’m sure there will be many political resolutions.

But it will be interesting to see if anything substantive is done to try to address the continuing decline in membership in the Church (and the resulting diminution in income and closing of churches.)

Outreach usually means service in our church. That’s to the good. But a shot of evangelism would be timely as well. —J. Douglas Ousley


Talking Points

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

At the Annual Meeting of the Parish on Sunday, I expressed a wish that the Church–specifically, our parish–could provide a safe place where Christians with strong conflicting opinions about politics might discuss their differences.

At least three parishioners have left Incarnation because they were uncomfortable with the liberal political stances of the national Episcopal Church. In each case, I urged them to stick around, assuring them that our parish includes conservatives as well as liberals. But they still felt they couldn’t remain at Incarnation.

As we see even North and South Koreans to be talking to each other, is it too much to hope that Episcopalian Christians could find enough in common that they could put their differences aside long enough to talk to each other?  —J. Douglas Ousley