(Photo: Episcopal News Service / Art Babych)
The head of The Episcopal Church has stated that the declining numbers of her denomination could be the work of the Holy Spirit to create "greater fruitfulness."
TEC Presiding Bishop the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori made this statement last Thursday in remarks delivered at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh. "Some have judged our smaller numbers as faithlessness but it may actually be the Spirit's way of pruning for greater fruitfulness," said Jefferts Schori.
"If we see ourselves standing at the foot of the cross, any such judgment will be far less important than our response."
Between 2010 and 2011, ELCA membership went from about 4.2 million to just over 4 million, representing a loss of more than 212,000 members. During the same time period, The Episcopal Church had a decrease of over 28,000 members, causing the number of members in its domestic dioceses to dip below the 2 million mark.<
Jefferts Schori also told those gathered for the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh about the benefit of diversity in the Christian community. "Jesus has given us to one another – all of us – and we will not live faithfully if we forget who it is we see or seek in those others," said Jefferts Schori.
"The body of Christ has need of all its diverse parts, working together, for the building up of God's beloved community and creation."
Since 1999, TEC and ELCA have had a "full communion" relationship, which is a type of agreement on ecumenical cooperation. This cooperation includes being allowed to exchange clergy, recognizing one another's baptisms and sacrament of communion. According to the ELCA's website, The Episcopal Church is one of six churches that they have such an agreement with. The others are Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, The Moravian Church, and the United Methodist Church.
Jefferts Schori's remarks came the day after attendees of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted for the denomination's first female leader.
The Reverend Elizabeth Eaton, bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, was elected ELCA Presiding Bishop with 600 votes, beating out incumbent Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, who got 287.
"We are a church that is overwhelmingly European in a culture that is increasingly pluralistic," said Eaton in remarks delivered last Wednesday. "We need to welcome the gifts of those who come from different places, that is a conversation we need to have as a church."
A spokeswoman from The Episcopal Church confirmed to The Christian Post that Jefferts Schori had been scheduled to speak at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly months before Eaton was elected.