Samuel Seabury asked a question on Twitter recently:
when I named church #Episcopal it was to highlight distinctiveness on religious scene, what is distinctive about our church now?
— Samuel Seabury (@SamSeabury) May 8, 2012
(Isn’t Twitter wonderful? Dead Episcopal bishops tweeting. Seabury’s old foe William White is online as well.)
I think Seabury asks a good question here. If I remember my history correctly, at the time the Episcopal Church was being born, there were no other churches in the new United States of America that had bishops. Congregationalists, Methodists, Quakers all stressed local governance.
In this context, naming the church “Episcopal” is something a bold move. “Look at us,” it says, “we have bishops and we are connected to the historic, true church. We are distinctive.”
So as the Episcopal Church once again struggles to find its way in a changing world, I wonder if asking Seabury’s question again is helpful: in the current religious marketplace, what makes the Episcopal Church distinctive?
Relatedly, is highlighting our distinctiveness the way to go? Or should we be stressing what we have in common, not only with other Christians but with all folks everywhere?