While the media has greatly exaggerated the death of the Episcopal church, they also fail to report on the rise of Anglicans, Catholic and other mainline church leaders, who are rethinking how they “do church.” The reasons for this shift in thinking are myriad and have only intensified since 2008 when a number of studies indicated that for the first time in US history, less than 50 percent of Americans classified themselves as “Christian.”
Such shifts in church decline have been documented in the Church of England (UK) for decades. As reported by the Rev. Steve Hollinghurst, Researcher in Evangelism to Post-Christian Culture, the Sheffield Centre, Children’s Sunday school attendance, for instance, has drastically plunged over the past century, dropping from 80 percent at the start of the century to 12 percent.
In an article I penned for Yale Divinity School’s Reflections magazine, I observed that explorations of alternative worship/emerging church culture have been transpiring over in the UK for decades. In 2004, the Church of England responded to this spirit by launching “Fresh Expressions of Church” in 2004. This initiative—which now includes an unprecedented partnership with the Methodist Church—seeks to encourage and recognize new Christian communities that attract those who are not members of a traditional church. By 2008, the Church of England established a formal means of recognizing new forms of church that do not fit within the existing parish system.
Episcopal Church emerging mission pioneer the Rev. Karen Ward, Abbess of Church of the Apostles (COTA) located in the Fremont section of Seattle has been partnering with her UK Anglican counterparts for year. She started Anglimergent, a social networking site to connect Anglicans globally. Recently, she co-founded Episcopal Village with Jon Myers, a postulant the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, who planted Beacon Hill Church Plant in south Seattle. This grassroots community and initiative has stated to serve as a resource for Episcopal dioceses, parishes and leaders for emerging/fresh expression mission with an Anglican ethos. So that interested parties can connect with each other, she’s planned events in Portland (June 10-12) and Baltimore (September 24th-25).
Concurrent with these developments, in fall 2010, Church Publishing (publisher for the US Episcopal Church) will partner with UK based SCM-Canterbury Press to launch the Mission-shaped Church Series in the United States. The goal is to finally make key resources from the UK Fresh Expressions movement available in the U.S., and to send American wisdom back across the pond, as well.