Thursday, January 04, 2007

Christians sort themselves out

Scott of Hybla draws my attention to this article in today's Washington Post:
Unlike many Episcopal churches nationally, neither Truro nor The Falls Church was active in supporting the civil rights movement or in protesting the Vietnam War.
. . .
Beginning in the 1970s, though, Truro embraced the antiabortion movement. It also started a program to help those who wanted to leave what it calls the "homosexual lifestyle."

"These emphases have never been mainstream within the Episcopal Church," said Joan Gunderson, a Pittsburgh scholar who is writing a history of the Virginia Diocese. "But there is a movement they are tapping into that is larger than just the Episcopal Church."

As Truro and The Falls Church adopted a conservative approach, dissenting members retreated to more liberal Episcopal churches in the area, such as Christ Church Alexandria. New worshipers, many of them born-again Christians who had grown disillusioned with their denominations, streamed in.
. . .
These days, Truro is a magnet for conservatives across the Washington area, and the percentage of "cradle" Episcopalians among its 2,000 regular worshipers has dropped steadily. In the 1980s, more than two-thirds of its members had been raised Episcopalian, according to church surveys. Today, fewer than 40 percent grew up in the church.
. . .
The Falls Church, whose historic sanctuary dates from 1769, draws almost 2,500 worshipers to its services on an average weekend.
. . .
At least two-thirds of the worshipers are Methodists, Presbyterians or Baptists, . . ., said the Rev. Rick Wright, associate rector.

Wright said the diverse membership of both congregations illustrates one of the great changes in American religion of the past half-century: The divisions between denominations are far less important today than the divisions within denominations.

"I tend to feel very comfortable rubbing shoulders with folks at McLean Bible or Columbia Baptist . . . that are real orthodox, evangelical, biblical churches," said Truro's chief warden, or lay leader, Jim Oakes, referring to two Northern Virginia megachurches. "We share core beliefs. I think I would be more comfortable with them than with anyone I might run into at an Episcopal Diocesan Council meeting."

In some popular services, Truro and The Falls Church blend the traditional liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer with such megachurch touches as huge choirs, bass guitars and drums. Neither offers "smells and bells," the incense and chimes favored by "high church" Episcopal congregations. But some parishioners affectionately describe Truro as "McLean Bible with candles."

This kind of self sorting is more likely in more urban areas where there are many churches, Episcopal and otherwise, to select from, and people are more footloose and less likely to be tied to the church in which they grew up. Thus you see the polarization within a denomination show up most strongly in more urban areas.

Another observation - it is not just conservative congregations that are attracting members from outside the denomination. More liberal congregations are as well.


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