Episcopal Bishop in MN: The church is dying, and needs to die to move forward

Reject division, white supremacy; return to community, simplicity

The Rt. Rev. Craig Loya, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, said the Episcopal church has been dying for more than 50 years. It needs to die and return to its roots in Jesus’ teachings.

The church, he said, has been co-opted by the state.

“The church we’re afraid of losing is largely one that went along for the ride of the domination systems, of empire and white supremacy and patriarchy and genocide of Indigenous peoples, decimation of the planet, on and on and on,” Loya said Nov. 6 in an address to the Episcopal Church in Minnesota’s 2021 online Convention.

The Rt. Rev. Craig Loya, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota.

Nationally, the Episcopal Church’s membership peaked at 3.44 million members in 1959. It has been declining since the 1960s. “As of 2019, it had about 1.8 million, the Episcopal News Service reported in 2020. “Membership is down 17.4% over the last 10 years.”

“I won’t lie to you because I love you,” Loya told church members. “Much of what we have to face in the coming years will be hard, and honestly a lot of it won’t be very much fun.”

“As for me, I have nowhere else I can turn,” he said. “I really believe in Jesus. I really believe that love is the soul of the universe. I believe love calls us to die in order to really live. I believe that love is the most powerful force for change and healing in the world. And I believe the world is starving for it.”

Loya’s 22-minute address asked members to commit to four agreements, to: 1) Look to Jesus as a model of what we are called to become; 2) Act like we are one body, where we celebrate one another, 3) Be patient with others, ourselves, and God; and 4) Agree to die.

Rather than analyze the address, here’s an extended verbatim.

The Episcopal Church has been in a state of uninterrupted institutional decline for more than 50 years now. And throughout most of that time, we have responded like we don’t actually believe in Jesus. We have worried about it. We have denied it. We have decided to fight over small distractions instead.

We’ve tried to make bold plans. For far too long, we have been chasing a vision of success measured by the world’s standards of size, wealth, and influence rather than a vision that looks like the poor and crucified Jesus.

We have to die. Jesus told us that’s the deal. But if we really believe in Jesus, if we’re really trying to look like Jesus, then we know we don’t pack it up and give up when death comes calling.

As followers of Jesus, we don’t meet death wailing and gnashing our teeth. We meet death shouting Hallelujah! Because we have learned from Jesus that true living means dying. True nourishment comes from giving. And true solace is found by extending love’s embrace even wider. …

The church we’re afraid of losing is largely one that went along for the ride of the domination systems, of empire and white supremacy and patriarchy and genocide of Indigenous peoples, decimation of the planet, on and on and on.

God has been trying to rip that out of our hands for more than 50 years now and we have wrestled God at every turn.

So actually the church isn’t dying folks. It’s us. Our sinful and idolatrous clinging to a way of being church that was co-opted by the very system that Jesus came to overturn and save. That’s what’s dying. Now is the time for us to let go and stop fighting and give the righteous death of one way of being the church into the victorious hands of God’s love.

Can we let go? Can we repent of the way that we have turned the church itself into an idol and let it die, trusting in the spirit to show us the way forward?

I don’t believe the spirit is asking any of us to become engineers who can master the complexity of this moment with better systems and formulas. I believe the spirit is inviting us to let go, by returning to the simplicity of being and making disciples: Worshiping together, sharing in our lives in deep and real ways, embracing the poor and the marginalized.

I believe that God is trying to wrestle us back into a church that looks and acts like Jesus.

The four priorities of discipleship, justice, faithful innovation, and vitality that we introduced last year were meant to help us start to make a beginning of doing that.

Tomorrow and in the days and weeks to come, you’ll be seeing a framework for thinking about vitality that is meant to help us become simple, and simply church. And much of the next year of ongoing work on our budget, in our governance bodies, in our teachings … more and more [is about] how to return to the basics: To follow Jesus, to travel light, to meet God who’s already on the move out there.

Bishop Craig Loya

A video of Loya’s speech is online.

The Episcopal Church in Minnesota had 95 congregations with 17,618 members in 2019, Wikipedia reports. Episcopal institutions include the Episcopal Homes of Minnesota, the Episcopal House of Prayer, The Sheltering Arms Foundation, Breck School, and Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, the Episcopal Church in Minnesota’s website says.

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