Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde
A decade of schism in the American Episcopal Church has taken a toll. New polls show the number of Episcopalians in the U.S. has dipped below two million for the first time in modern history. The church is losing conservatives who say it is too secular and accepting of gays and lesbians. Liberals are leaving to find spirituality not based on a centuries-old theology. The first female bishop of the Washington D.C. diocese -- one of the nation’s largest and home to the National Cathedral -- has a plan. She’s looking for ways to grow the church and bring people together. Diane talks with the Right Reverend Mariann Budde about saving the Episcopal Church.
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D. C.
The Right Reverend Mariann Budde was consecrated as Bishop of the Washington, D.C. Diocese last month in the National Cathedral which is marred by cracks resulting from an earthquake. She sees a metaphor in those cracks within the Cathedral, cracks in the faith whose foundations are crumbling. But she remains resolute in her hope that that can change.
A Significant Nationwide Decline In The Church
Although the Washington Diocese is healthy and large, according to Budde, the Episcopal Church has been experiencing a significant decline nationwide. Budde believes that a lack of investment, as well as a lack of understanding about what people are looking for today in spiritual communities, are just two of many factors contributing to the Church's erosion. "I think we have failed in addressing those core concerns in a systemic and strategic way - that we have become an institution focused on our own survival," Budde said.
The Role Of Women In The Church
When Budde was a child, women weren't allowed to serve in any of the Church's leadership bodies, and girls weren't allowed to be altar servers. But slowly, through democratic processes, Church leadership was convinced that there was no scriptural, theological or other reasons that women shouldn't be allowed into Church councils or other positions of leadership. The Church's views on divorce also changed; when Budde was a child, her own parents divorced, and at the time the Church's views on divorce were as strict as those of the Catholic Church's. "It wasn't just the role of women, but social changes in general that the Episcopal Church, through our democratic policies and processes, began to change," Budde said.
Diversity and Notions of Acceptance
Some congregation members are not entirely comfortable with the changes those democratic policies brought in. A listener wrote that she felt the Episcopalian Church she was born and raised in had turned its back on traditional values because the rector of her church is a lesbian and the American and Episcopal Church flags outside her church have been replaced by a rainbow banner. Budde said the tension between preserving the past and moving forward is never easy, but that the Church has a new understanding of what it means to welcome gay and lesbian members into the congregation. Budde feels that these members should be welcomed in to the Church and know that they have a place in it if they choose.
Traveling The Country
Budde plans to travel around the Diocese "speaking the word" every Sunday to a new congregation around the counties she serves, trying to help strengthen the community. "I miss the peacefulness of an earlier time," she said. "I don't think we're going to go back there. I think we're going to go through this very painful period to another place. And part of that newness will be letting people who want to leave, leave," Budde said.
You can read the full transcript here.