Episcopal church a 'big tent'

Episcopal church a 'big tent'

June 18th, 2011 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

The Rev. George D. Young III, bishop-elect of the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee, says in spite of the lofty position he is about to undertake he tries not to take himself too seriously.

He didn't mind pointing out, for instance, what someone said to him after he traded in a 10-year career in the wine and spirits business for a priest's robe following seminary.

"You used to sell it," the friend told him. "Now you give it away."

Young, who was elected at the Convention of the Diocese of East Tennessee in February, was pastor at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Fernandina Beach, Fla., before being elevated to the episcopacy. He will be ordained as the fourth bishop of the diocese on Saturday, June 25, at 11 a.m. at Church of the Ascension in Knoxville.

Young, 55, said he was delighted at the vitality of the diocese, which includes Chattanooga, when he first read its profile before applying for the position a year ago.

"What struck me," he said, "was a sense of it being a very healthy diocese. Good things were happening. I didn't personally know Bishop [Charles G.] vonRosenberg, but I knew he was well-respected."

Young said parishioners will find he is measured in tone and deliberative in decision-making.

"I believe I'm a patient, stable, nonanxious type of person," he said.

A colleague once told him the work of being a priest was less a sprint and more of a marathon, Young said, and he agrees.

"[Being reactive] won't help me or anybody else," he said.

As such, Young said he has no plans to make any immediate changes and sees no glaring problems in the diocese "unless people are keeping very good secrets."

When he gets to know parishioners throughout the diocese, and they him, he said, he'll determine the opportunities and "places to direct our energy."

What is clear, Young said, is the church and culture in general are in the midst of tremendous change. That in itself, he said, presents challenges and opportunities.

As a church, he said, "we need ... to acknowledge that" but not necessarily "ride the latest train."

Young said people, individual parishes, communities and the church in general are all being affected. A majority of people in their late teens or early 20s, for example, are unaffiliated with any religious group, he said.

"That is our mission - to reach out to the world with the good news," he said.

The high number of unaffiliated young people, the bishop-elect said, "points out the fact that things are much different than the world I grew up in. [So] you can't keep doing the same old things and expect to survive."

Yet, Young said, he's optimistic. Indeed, when a friend asked him before his election if he was sure he was interested in becoming a bishop when the church was falling apart, he would have none of it.

"I see it as a great opportunity, and I'd like to be a part of that," he said he told the friend. "It's a matter or perspective, loss or opportunity. You have a choice on what to focus."

Young, in fact, said he believes it's possible to halt the decades-long slide in membership in mainline churches.

The Episcopal Church, specifically, is a perfect place for "those significant portions of the population who are unaffiliated," he said.

While Young said he didn't categorize the church as liberal, at its best it's "able to be a big tent" and "incorporate people of all ideas" who may not be welcome in other traditions.

All the while, he said, "this whole Christian life" and "this church thing" should be lived with great joy and laughter.

"We need to enjoy the great gifts God has given us," he said.

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497.