Sunday, January 20, 2013

Numbers Are Important

The episode in Acts 4 involving the Sanhedrin's attempt to muzzle Peter and John came up in confirmation class the other night, before I'd read anything about alleged TAC censuses:
As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
The use of the number struck me at the time, because I'd been thinking for many months about the actual totals of the earliest Christians in the Gospels, and it's a lot. There were feedings of five thousand at one point, four thousand at another. Another time, the crowds were so thick that a paralytic's friends had to climb onto a roof and lower the guy through a hole in it. In the case above, the Sanhedrin clearly recognized that if they tried to imprison Peter and John, they'd have a situation on their hands that they couldn't control, and they had to find a face-saving way to back down.

There are echoes of this incident in modern times: Solidarity in Poland was a Catholic movement, and it became plain to the Soviets that there were too many people in it for them to control effectively. Numbers are important. Churches with national memberships in the hundreds are an embarrassment on the face of it. They're also very poor stewardship: there's not enough income to do anything significant, and of what comes in, too much is going to support supernumerary bishops, vicars general, and canons, whose see may cover only several dozen people.

This is why I think that it's a sign of desperation that Ms Gyapong and Fr Chadwick should be citing highly questionable censuses that more or less acknowledge that in places like the UK, Canada, Australia, and the US -- where it's much harder to conceal or exaggerate -- the numbers are lugubriously small. The censuses hope to make up the difference by suggesting there are hundreds of thousands somewhere out in the conceptual bush, India or South Africa.

My wife and I count ourselves lucky that we never involved ourselves with the full-fledged TAC and only joined St Mary's after it had gone into the Patrimony. It was probably a combination of God's grace and pretty good catechism by Episcopal clergy that made me recognize that "continuing Anglicanism" was never a serious option. For those who chose it as adults, for whatever reason, I believe more and more that this reflects questionable judgment. It speaks well of the parishioners at St Mary of the Angels that majorities over two generations felt that "continuing Anglicanism" was not a good option for them, either, and it speaks well of former TAC parishes that went into the Ordinariate, too.

I've heard the opinion over and over from both former TAC clergy and laity, and not just from St Mary's, that they're well out of the TAC. The evidence and example of the Gospels is that the Church is about great swaths of humanity -- at some point, all of it. The Church has nothing to do with exclusivity, snobbery, esotericism, or tiny groups that somehow have things right. Ms Gyapong has left the TAC and should be thinking about better things to do with her time than make excuses for it. Fr Chadwick doesn't seem to be sure whether he's in or out. He should be thinking that one through as well and not wasting his time trying to pretend the TAC has much of anything to do with the Church.