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By David W. Virtue, DD
August 19, 2021

And so it begins...the only question is when will it end?

The Episcopal diocese of Fond du Lac announced this week that episcopal dioceses in Wisconsin would begin a trialogue.

The Milwaukee, Fond du Lac and Eau Claire dioceses announced they are beginning to explore ways to deepen cooperation and coordination with each bishop and governing body providing their support. Each diocese is experiencing challenges of being the church in the 21st century, while adapting to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

An initial leadership meeting will take place in September to discuss how congregations across Wisconsin might work more closely to best serve the witness and mission of the Episcopal Church. The focus will be how to be the body of Christ in this place and time. The meeting will consider how to best engage lay and ordained members of each diocese in future conversations.

Wisconsin dioceses to formalize collaboration plans as similar efforts gain steam churchwide, ran an ENS headline.

The issue of these three dioceses is not exclusive to them. Financial challenges and membership decline are a common concern across The Episcopal Church.

The language is about "collaboration". When things get worse, it is called "juncturing". When the diocese eventually dies, it is called merging.

Christ Church Cathedral in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is one of only two congregations in the Diocese of Eau Claire that averages more than 80 worshippers on Sundays.

The Wisconsin news comes less than a month after the Diocese of Vermont bishop revealed that a looming "financial cliff" was driving consideration of closer ties to the dioceses of New Hampshire and Maine. Formal partnerships already are in place between the dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan and between the dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York. In each of the latter partnerships, the dioceses agreed to share a bishop and combine some administrative functions and ministries while maintaining separate diocesan identities, said an ENS story.

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Lee serves as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Milwaukee. He retired at the end of 2020 from leading the Diocese of Chicago, where one of his claims to fame was picking up the remnants of the Diocese of Quincy after the ACNA won the court battle over the properties and bank balances.

The Judicial Circuit Court in Adams County, Illinois, ruled against the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy and the Episcopal Church in their efforts to recover assets and property claimed by the true owners.

Among his other "accomplishments" Lee closed the 115-year old Church of the Advent' he oversaw the disbanding of the 129-year-old Episcopal Church of the Mediator.

He canned the award-winning diocesan communication officer David Skidmore and sold off the diocesan headquarters for a boat load of money. All in all, he was a disaster.

The Diocese of Milwaukee, facing its own bishop vacancy this year, chose Lee on April 1 for a two-year stint as part-time provisional bishop.

Lee said he sees cross-diocese collaboration as a way to expand his diocese's capacity for ministry. This is pure fantasy. It is contraction by any other name.

The argument the national church puts out is that each diocese is experiencing challenges of being the church in the 21st century while adapting to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the three dioceses said.

Milwaukee, the largest of the group, had 49 congregations with an average Sunday attendance (ASA) of 3,033 in 2019, before the pandemic scrambled attendance records. That places its size in the lowest third of all domestic dioceses. The diocese has five full-time employees and a couple of part-time.

Fond du Lac has 34 congregations, with a pre-pandemic ASA of 1,521, and two full-time employees, plus a couple of part-time, TLC noted.

"Eau Claire has 19 congregations, a pre-pandemic ASA of 568, no full-time employees, and a part-time bishop and part-time canon to the ordinary. There are 35 individual congregations in the Episcopal Church that are larger than the Diocese of Eau Claire. The only smaller domestic dioceses are Northern Michigan, North Dakota, Western Kansas, and the Navajo Mission."

COVID is just the last knife cut to the throat of TEC. It did not cause this problem and it can't be blamed for it. TEC is dying because it has no fix on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to change lives. It is focusing on several woke issues rather than Jesus. Fixing the issues doesn't require Jesus either, apparently.

You can blame aging demographics, young people not filling pews (why should they?), and for every 25,000 who leave, die or move, only 5,000 come in to fill pews. That is a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, throwing money at the problem won't solve it. Wealth has never been an episcopal problem. That is almost the one steady factor. Aging Episcopalians are giving more, even leaving money in their wills, so even the worst diocese can stay afloat...for the moment. The problem is that individual parishes are dying for lack of people and no amount of money will keep them afloat. Full time diocesan bishops are expensive items, as is maintaining their headquarters and conference centers which are steadily being sold off. The diocese of Nthn. Michigan has less than 400 ASA.

Thrusting homosexuality onto the Church can now be seen as the losing issue. The consecration of Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church's first homosexual prince of darkness can now be seen as the turning point when it all started to crash and burn. TEC lost 100,000 members, hundreds of clergy and a slew of bishops; recently, four bishops disappeared out the door over homosexual marriage. What about all this do TEC's leaders not understand? "Hear no evil, see no evil' perhaps?

"We won!" Robinson exultantly cried out in Washington National Cathedral recently. No, Gene you lost, and you are taking your church all the way to hell with you.

What we are witnessing with all these "collaborations" and part-time bishops now being brought in, is a denomination running out the clock. Most commentators say TEC will disappear by 2040. Some of us think it will earlier, perhaps by 2030.

Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote a book in 1999 entitled Why Christianity Must Change or Die. He might have had the Episcopal Church in mind. It is now becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.


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