I was at a church recently that has been painfully divided for some years over the question of whether to stay in the Episcopal Church or join one of the breakaway groups. Not long ago they made the decision to stay in PECUSA and work for the reform of the church. Some of the minority left to form a church of their own, meeting quite close by their old church, and will in due course become a congregation of one of the breakaway fellowships.

Nothing surprising in that, of course, the same story has been played out in perhaps a hundred Episcopal churches in the last couple of years. But in a handful of them, including this one, a minority of the minority has stayed in what they believe to be an apostate church for the sole purpose of undermining its ministry and drawing people away to the new congregation. At coffee hour and in the parking lot after the service, in phone calls and other conversations during the week, they whisper discouragement into the ears of those who have chosen to follow a very hard path. ‘You’ll never reform the Episcopal Church… They’ll never approve another bishop who believes the Bible to be God’s Word Written… They’ll make you have a gay rector when this one leaves,’ and on it goes.

What can we call this ministry of discouragement? Barnabas, who gives the fellowship represented by this blog its name, is famous for his ministry of encouragement; whose fellowship are these people in? The Sanballat Project, perhaps?

What baffles me is how people can stay in an apostate church for the sake of a negative purpose like discouragement, yet refuse to stay for a positive purpose like reform, or at least for the honor of being excommunicated simply for being faithful (an honor still waiting to be given, as far as I know). I suppose there’s something personal in it; those involved in this ministry won’t receive communion from the rector, but not for theological reasons—when he’s away they receive from whoever is supplying the place.  How sad is that?

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