Really-existing Anglicanism in America

To discuss the Episcopal Church as it now is may be, to borrow from Dr. Johnson, “to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility.” Still, it clarifies thought to consider the present state in America of an institution that once expressed the spiritual life of much of our branch of European civilization. Maybe the Episcopal Church still does express our collective spiritual life. It certainly tries hard enough. However that may be, here’s something from Episcopal Life, a national publication included as an insert to the monthly fishwrap put out by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, that shows where the church is at now. I find it beyond comment:

Finding equal footing: Giant pew provokes intergenerational innovation

By Russ Barnes for Episcopal Life

“I FEEL AS IF I’m flying,” exclaims Maurine Holbert Hogaboom, 90, sitting in the giant oak pew at a church in St. Mary’s City, Md., her feet dangling way above the floor: She sits, rocking back and forth a bit, on an equal footing with 8-year-old children whose feet are accustomed to dangling from ordinary-sized pews every Sunday.

The giant pew, complete with a “modesty panel” in front, is becoming an icon for a new movement in liturgical reform. The meaning it telegraphs is the need for intergenerational communication within worship, according to the Rev. Caroline Fairless, founder and director of the organization Children at Worship.

“The purpose of Children at Worship is to devise ways to shock ourselves into realizing that children are not only capable of experiencing the divine, but are also key members of the community needed by adults to understand God,” says Fairless.

Jim Sims, Fairless’ husband, says faith affiliation is declining among teens and children in the United States. One solution may be the giant pew.

“The pew provokes you to consider who you are,” says Sims, its creator and builder. “It’s humorous. The pew brings out the humanity of everyone who sits in it; young and old.” The pew is now on the road to as many as 20 church-conference locations a year.

“Once you sit in the giant pew, there is no turning back to your old ways of thinking about church,” says Suffragan Bishop Catherine S. Roskam of the Diocese of New York.

That’s just why Sims, a former construction contractor, built the pew. Modeled after one he studied at his parish church in Wilmington, N.C., the pew is built in eight sections, each small enough when disassembled to be shuttled around in his van. It is twice the size of an ordinary pew, so that, when sitting in it, a six-foot-tall adult feels like a three-foot-tall, 8-year-old child. The leveling of age status by means of the pew has spiritual and psychological implications.

“No one is more marginalized than, say, a 3-year-old,” says Roskam. “If we are able to identify with a 3-year-old, we are able-lo learn from anyone marginalized”—including the 3-year-old we, as adults, feel within ourselves.”

While the liturgical reforms being. promoted by Children at Worship have a theological basis, the experiment also is practical. Although membership in the Episcopal Church has grown slightly over the past several years, there are gaping age inequities. Leaders in the Episcopal Church are on average 57.9 years old—a decided contrast to the 36.4 average age of the U.S. population. Such an age gap drains younger age groups out of the church.

“Children, as they grow up, vote with their feet, and many leave the church,” says Fairless. “Young generations are not being nourished in the faith. So this tradition is losing generations.”

While dramatizing some of the liturgical problems in conventional worship settings—and suggesting possible solutions—with the giant pew, Children at Worship stages workshops and experimental liturgy at such locations as Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Mary’s City.

At an early summer conference, Fairless and Sims set up the pew and led a dramatic approach to liturgy including adapted, interactive Bible readings. The leaders made the drama conform to the traditional order of service for the Eucharist.

The experiments were staged using a variety of seating arrangements. Fairless says it “takes much more work to prepare for a structured alternative liturgy than it does to perform readings from the prayer book.”

As members of Children at Worship loaded sections of the giant pew into the van, Sims looked at his creation and said, “I am a person who has stayed in touch with the lad I used to be. I know many who have locked away those children within themselves. The pew, I hope, may liberate some of that childlike energy and allow it to flow among.the generations.”

Children at Worship may be reached at

Russ Barnes is a uniter and playwright from Bethesda, Md. He is currently working on a book, “God, Computers, and Us: Information Code of Boundless Blessing. ‘

7 thoughts on “Really-existing Anglicanism in America”

  1. How sad that this once
    How sad that this once vibrant church has become such a joke. It’s just a corpse rotting in the sun now – no point in even attempting reform from within.

  2. I’ve often thought that it
    I’ve often thought that it is important for every man to go on a quest for his inner child. Perhaps this giant pew will be helpful on that journey. Maybe with this pew modern spiritual man can finally come to know himself for what he is, find and expose his deeply rooted inner child, and once the snot nosed little bugger is out in the sunlight he can finally choke it to death.

  3. The Anglicans are in
    The Anglicans are in desperate need of theological and liturgical stability instead of garbage like this. I’ve seen attendance figures for the CoE that puts the number of worshipers on any given Sunday at less than 900,000 in the UK. The American experience probably isn’t any different. So instead of an attempt to transmit real religious values to young children, the Episcopal Church would rather engage in an obscure form of solipsism complete with bizarre gimmicks. It’s the new age mass market approach to Christianity. Too bad it will turn out like the sermon in England where the priest was dressed as Darth Vader. Why bother showing respect for and entertaining Christian ideals and values when the Church hierarchy doesn’t.

    On the other hand, the campaign website has a rather hypnotic logo.

  4. It reminds me of the
    It reminds me of the Christian group at Melbourne University who wander around in nappies to encourage students to be “childlike”.

    If the Christian churches want a younger audience they need to more strongly promote a culture of family life. This would bring back a certain percentage of couples with young children. They could also attempt to reach out to those young men in their 20s who feel marginalised by radical feminism.

  5. Anglicans see themselves as
    Anglicans see themselves as being in harmony with the surrounding, secular society. (This comes in part from the idea of having the secular King as the head of the church). So they follow the society, including its liberalism. They don’t think it’s their mission to help raise the society to a higher level, rather, they think it’s their mission to make people feel comfortable and at-home with whatever is. So they do nothing to stop the advance of liberal decadance. And then, after this liberal decadence has taken over, and there is no one left in the surrounding society who has any higher aspirations and who thus might be drawn to a real church with real liturgy and a real life in Christ, the Anglicans feel they have no choice but to “adapt” to the surrounding mores and tastes even more than before. So they end up with “Feel Your Inner Child” pews. Whereas, if they had consistently LED the society religiously and morally instead of FOLLOWING it, there would still be a population that was not totally liberalized, and so it wouldn’t be necessary to have “Inner-Child” pews in order to attract people to church.

    Just another way of saying that by abandoning their calling they’ve destroyed themselves.

  6. There is little to add to
    There is little to add to Mr. Auster’s remarks, which capture the tragicomic dilemma of confused churches rendering themselves irrelevant exactly to the extent they pursue relevance by accommodating to secular society’s declining mores. Comic, as one observes the gyrations of progressive prelates and their lay fellow-travellers (usually laywomen, at least in Catholicism); tragic, in the damage it does Christians who look to their churches for instruction in their faith and affirmation of it.

    Actually, it is worse than that, bad though that is. The mainstream churches have become carriers of the cultural diseases that threaten to undo our society altogether. Institutionally, they are among the most left-wing and self-consciously “progressive” of institutions. One of the laugh-lines of the sterile leftist debate about the separation of church and state is liberals’ insistence that the churches unleashed would threaten the new world disorder they have fastened on us. Not the churches I know…

    In reading things like this about Anglicans and others, it is easy for Catholics to feel smugly superior. After all, we have the backstop of Magisterium to stop us short of irremediable error. We had better resist the temptation. I grew up Episcopalian and converted to Roman Catholicism at age 30. Although the manic liberalism that was destroying Anglicanism did not make my decision any harder, I converted because I had come to believe Catholicism is true, not because of anything about Anglicanism. I still believe that, and – against a lot of evidence lately – that the Holy Ghost will keep the Church ultimately orthodox. That said, it is just as easy to imagine this sort of idiocy in a Catholic church in any Western nation today. We have seen worse.

    So, I’ll forbear laughing at the Anglicans, and pray for their conversion and the revival of the Old Mass. I suspect I’ll be praying for a long time, on both accounts. HRS

  7. Roskam says that “no one is
    Roskam says that “no one is more marginalized than….a 3-year old” ? As the father of a
    3-year old, that’s news to me!


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