Grace Church’s initiative, “Church in the Wilderness,” is, in many ways, an example of the sort of original thinking that the Episcopal Church desperately needs if it is going to survive. But taken as a whole, it’s a really bad idea.
One issue is that it’s a bad case of message dilution. The pandemic, coupled with bad behavior within Grace Episcopal, the clergy perjury parish, has already led to people questioning the need to be part of a church community. And let’s face it — streaming services may not have the wonderful smell of incense, but neither do you have to deal with the petty antics of the altar guild ladies. Thus, it’s a bad case of providing one more alternative to traditional church and the community it provides.
Another issue is that it further erodes the connection people have with the church building. Grace church may have a physically lovely building, but it’s a costly one, gobbling down roughly $200,000 a year, just to keep the doors open. Anything that reduces ties and the commitment to the physical plant, absent a clear path forward towards sale or sharing of the space with renters, is a bad idea.
To be clear, I am not backtracking on my position that Grace needs to fish or cut bait on the building. Yes, it’s a lovely space, but we are seeing the commitment to pay for it looking thin, and it’s a huge expense for a fast dwindling parish.
Bottom line, I applaud Anne Turner’s willingness to innovate. But absent consideration of a larger strategy towards church growth and renewal, random innovation is likely to cause more harm than good.