Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Numbers: 2012

So another year's statistics are out, and the five year fast facts summary brings the cheery news that domestic membership is down 1.5%, same as last year, and that domestic ASA, after last year's interruption, has resumed its steady decline, not quite the traditional 3% this year. overal summary informs us that in a decade we've lost 24% of our ASA, and that not only did half our parishes lost ASA, but that over half had lost at least 10% of their ASA over a decade.

On a diocese-by-diocese basis, I note first of all that 2012 will be the last year that all of South Carolina is counted; as the 19th largest diocese by ASA, its loss means a decline of up to 1.9% of the total, alone. That year will also see the disappearance of Quincy into Chicago, but given that it was the smallest domestic diocese (Navaholand, which is a mission, is smaller), around 4% of parishes each have more ASA, and its membership is less than the typical error in that number. It's also a sign of How Things Have Changed that Quincy was not merged into Springfield, which in the old days would have been a far better fit; but most of the diocese having passed on to ACNA, I suppose Springfield would represent, to the remnant, that which they wished to avoid.

At any rate, the diocesan numbers are somewhere between "not as bad as they could be" and "well, pretty bad actually". Nineteen dioceses recorded gains in ASA, San Joaquin squeaking in with one, that's right, one extra attendee. Only three relatively large dioceses recorded gains: Chicago, Southeast Florida, and (oh well) South Carolina. Four of the gainers were overseas, including three of the top four by percentage gained. Lots of dioceses scored big losses, topped out by Los Angeles, whose loss was 10% of the total domestic ASA loss. Ohio also did quite poorly, with a 14%+ loss.

Then we get some other cheery numbers. In the domestic dioceses, burials outnumber child baptisms by 2300 ex-people, or in the 8% range of the total of either. Receptions alone are enough, for now, to make up the difference, and presumably some adult confirmations also register an increase, but again, the losses show that the attendance problem is caused in large part by people just not coming anymore. Overseas dioceses did better, as usual.

Next year's numbers are sure to be bad, what with the departure of most of SC. A continuation of the 3% ASA decline is a near certainty. And it will be a sad day when the best we can come up with is the observation that, well, at least our financial investments increased.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

What Can I Do to Avoid "Thinking Liturgy"?

Via one of Facebook contacts I came across the news that the Thinking Anglicans website is starting a new blog titled Thinking Liturgy. They say that "[I]n this new blog we shall look at the link and explore how our worship can reflect the social justice that we have proclaimed, and at the continuing relevance of this in the second decade of the twenty-first century." But before that they talk about what does get done in church:
These things are intimately linked with what we do in Church. We gather around lectern and table to hear and receive the Word of God; we share forgiveness and peace with our neighbours, and eat with them, recognizing the presence of Christ as we do so. We are the body of Christ, not just in Church, but in the world. Our table fellowship is not just a symbolic table fellowship existing only within the confines of the church building; rather, all these things are one.
Anyone see what they left out? To be a little fair, they do mention "worship" twice; but let's go back to 1 Corinthians 11:26: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes."

It's that whole anamnesis thing again. Worship of and communion with God is the center of the liturgy; this is why we repeat the creed, and why one of the crucial elements of communion is a recitation of Jesus' words and acts on that final night. I do not see how social justice figures in this, except as an excuse for messing it up or forgoing it entirely.

One of the Facebook respondents waspishly remarked, "Personally I'm very happy with my unthinking Liturgy." Personally I am too exhausted to be waspish, and can only manage raw denunciation, unfair though it may be to snipe at them before they have even really gotten started. In the name of Social Justice, which is to say, progressivist politics as practiced by the college-educated class, I can only expect Father-free liturgies and the kind of self-congratulation I encountered at Trinity, Copley Square. I expect a lack of real theological (much less political) engagement. I expect giant paper-mâché Calvinist puppets of doom. I do not expect to be taught even the most basic Christian dogma.

Meanwhile, in an Anglo-Catholic parish in slums on the banks of the Thames, the rector carries on the work of the church by reviewing the church school lunches to make them less institutional. Their ritual is arch-traditionalist, and their theology, age-old; I cannot imagine that they do not teach their children the basics of the faith, nor would I expect that the preacher stands in the pulpit at the major feasts and hedges on the gospel narrative. By contrast, my experience of social action liturgy is that it consists of making empty gestures whose effect is to reward the participants and even onlookers with the self-congratulation of having done something Significant.

Therefore I do not want liturgy that "reflects social justice". I want liturgy that recalls and recollects and repeats the age old acts, with dignity and solemnity, liturgy that acknowledges our own sins and not just those of others, liturgy directed to God in worship. I'll even settle for worship conforming to the rites of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America as they are recorded in the Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Like Papyrus Fragments in the Desert Wind

I've once again stolen the title, this time from where I do not recall, in honor of what appears to be the denouement of the whole Jesus Wife Fragment. Once again, the scholarly focus is more on the Gospel of John fragment that accompanied it, which appears to be in the same hand and has suspicious parallels to a modern edition of another text whose language is inappropriate for the period. But another detail has emerged in further examination: there's a hole near the top of the page, and on one side the scribe as written around the hole, while on the other, he has not. Now, it's not unread of for a text to be written on a damaged page, and for the text to be fitted around the damage; it's extremely hard to justify, however, that on one side, there was damage, and on the other side, there was not.

More details about the supposed origin of the document have also turned up in Owen Jarus's article on the LiveScience site. Supposedly these texts came out of the collection of one Hans-Ulrich Laukamp, who supposedly obtained them in Potsdam in 1963. This story, it turns out, has many difficulties. It does seem that Laukamp was living in West Berlin at the time, but Potsdam was then in East Germany, and Laukamp could not have travelled there. But in any case, Jarus was able to contact the executor of Laukamp's estate, and Jarus was told that Laukamp, a toolmaker, had no interest in old texts and did not collect antiquities. Another acquaintance gave the same story. Further investigation revealed that the German antiquities authorities had no knowledge of the parchments.

Thus the legitimacy of the text continues to dissolve. And finally, the major media, those who pushed this story, are yielding in their defense of the fragment. The Wall Street Journal ran a story on the story; other negative stories ran in Slate and the Daily Mail. Even Laurie Goldstein of the New York Times, who was one of the chief media advocates for the text, came out with an article recounting the extent of the doubts. Far from delivering revelations about the early church, or even about Gnostic heresy, all we are left with is revelation of the gullibility of those who long for such exposes.