On August 5, the lay leaders in the Episcopal Church launched a new initiative to mobilize and equip laity to let their concerns and voices be heard in regards to the crisis in the Church in the US and Canada.
Since the bishops of the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) the American branch of the 77 million member worldwide Anglican Communion consecrated an openly gay man as bishop last year, thousands of its adherents yelled out in revulsion. Dozens of churches refused to remain a member of the ECUSA but rather chose to form their own network of confessing churches that would not receive oversight from neither the gay bishop nor the bishops who voted to appoint him.
However, according to Diane L. Knippers, President of the Institute of Religion and Democracy, the clergy is limited in what they can do since they are under the jurisdiction of bishops. Therefore, Knippers and an advisory team of lay leaders across the countries decided to allow the laity to speak their voice on the issue since lay members of the church cannot be pressured by fear of legal action and intimidation tactics.
We lay people must find our voice and speak out, said Knippers. We have been excluded from important discussions, such as when the bishops went behind closed doors to craft their Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) plan. The laity must not abdicate their great responsibility to hold their priests and bishops accountable to church teaching. Now is the time.
Cynthia Brust, Director of Communications for the conservative American Anglican Council, who works alongside Knippers, explained why the initiative had to be launched.
Despite faithful and bold stances by some orthodox clergy, they have been limited by pressure from their bishops, fear of legal action and intimidation tactics. Unlike clergy, laity can speak to these issues without fear of reprisals, said Brust. We are encouraging Anglicans to break the virtual silence that has gripped us. To my knowledge, this is the first effort to organize Anglican laity in North America, and I anticipate a significant response.
The SPEAK OUT! initiative, which was launched on the first anniversary of the gay bishops nomination, is centered around its website: www.anglicanlaity.net. The online site offers a panoply of useful resources including sample prayers and letters, speeches and a calendar of events. It also features a section that gives recommendations on how laity can take action.
The purpose of SPEAK OUT! is to encourage the laity to find its voice. This website will not speak for laity, but will allow laypersons to speak for themselves, the website statement read.
Our Church is in crisis. The future of Anglicanism in North America is uncertain. It is time for the laity to speak out to communicate our own concerns and hopes and to contribute to a broad discussion about Anglican realignment. In short, it is time for the laity to assume appropriate leadership over the direction of our churches, the website says.
At a time when Gods people should be speaking forthrightly, creatively, courageously and openly to one another, the discussion has been muted, hidden and fearful .It is time for laity to insist that the future of our churches not be determined by clergy behind closed doors .Ultimately, it is the laity who will decide whether or not to assent to or reject novel doctrines and practices.
For more information or to join the SPEAK OUT! Initiative, please visit www.anglicanlaity.net