The decline of mainline Protestantism has been covered ad nauseum from Christian news sources and literature to American “mainstream” media. In 1975, mainline Protestants comprised 31% of Americans, whereas only 21% of Americans identified as evangelical Protestants. Since then, mainline Protestantism entered a steep decline, landing at a meager 11% of Americans in 2018. Two reasons explain why this phenomenon is occurring, (1) mainline Protestants, and particularly white mainline Protestants, are aging and dying out, or (2) mainline Protestants are defecting. In 2016, Pew Research released an article stating that the median age in The Episcopal Church was 56, with 66% of its members being over the age of 50. Baptisms are expected to plummet to 2,500 by 2050, down from around 56,000 in 1980. Annual attendance, which was around 856,000 in 2000, is predicted to freefall to 150,000 by 2050. And these latter two predictions were calculated pre-COVID.
While there’s a million statistics out there evidencing the decline of mainline Protestantism and opining on the reasons, there’s no secret that mainline Protestantism is on a death march to dissolution if it stays on its current course. This is especially true of America’s mainline Anglican denomination and its largest, The Episcopal Church. Many readers of this publication will wonder why waste time in sounding the trumpeter’s call to arms to save The Episcopal Church, and I’m sure many will write at stupendous length in the comment section below calling such call to arms foolish and, well, too late. What is there to save in The Episcopal Church? Is it even worth saving? Why do you not let it just die out? It deserves assured destruction for its sins, its heresies, its apostasy just like Nineveh deserved God’s wrath. I know many here were burned by the decisions made by The Episcopal Church in retribution for having fought for the faith once delivered, whether it be departing parishes who lost their church buildings for voting to join the ACNA, or aspiring priests who were denied ordination and placement because their orthodox faith clashed with those of worldly-minded bishops. I get it. In fact, after God brought me to a conservative Episcopal parish, I considered several times whether I should just pack up my suitcase and lodge with an ACNA or Continuing Anglican parish. It was not until I discovered the Reconquista Movement, and made rewarding connections with other young, conservative Episcopalians hungering for the redemption of The Episcopal Church, that I felt the call to reach this modern-day Nineveh.
Despite the vast multitude of apostate progressives in The Episcopal Church, there is silent band of conservative exiles pining for the days of redemption of America’s original Anglican province. Fellowships such as Communion Partners and the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion USA (EFAC-USA) exist within The Episcopal Church, praying for and working towards renewal. No matter if theologically you are evangelical or Anglo-Catholic, no matter if liturgically you are low church or high church, no matter whether you are ACNA, in the Continuum, or the REC, all Anglicans in the United States find their ecclesiastical and theological ancestry in the Protestant Episcopal Church founded at America’s birth, with roots going back almost 200 years before that. It was the Protestant Episcopal Church that gave you Continuing Anglicans and Reformed Episcopalians the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It was the Protestant Episcopal Church that inspired the 2019 Book of Common Prayer for you members of the Anglican Church in North America. It was the Protestant Episcopal Church that gave you seminarians and alumni, Nashotah House. It was the Protestant Episcopal Church that planted Anglican churches all across this land and sent American Anglican missionaries abroad to save countless souls. It was in the Protestant Episcopal Church that many beautiful, sacred ACNA and Continuing Anglican church buildings were constructed and it was Protestant Episcopal Church priests and bishops that served God’s faithful in these buildings. Is this institutional legacy not worth saving? Are the existing cathedrals and churches remaining in The Episcopal Church not worth retaking?
After posting several videos on his YouTube channel and drafting a list of grievances in the style of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses for his own Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA), Redeemed Zoomer (his social media alias) launched Operation Reconquista as a call to all conservative mainline Protestants, particularly Generation Z and Millennials, to join a grassroots movement with the mission of restoring biblical orthodoxy to mainline Protestant denominations. While starting out on a Discord server designed to disseminate information and create a private forum for hundreds of mainline Protestants to gather in community, denominational chapters quickly formed in an effort to tailor strategies to the circumstances and institutional structures of their mainline denominations. In adopting Redeemed Zoomer’s mode for initiating the salvo against the PCUSA, the Episcopalians in the group drafted its own version of the 95 Theses to begin the struggle for renewal and created the chapter and brand, the Episcopal Fellowship for Renewal.
While still nascent, the Episcopal Fellowship for Renewal is growing and expanding membership into more and more dioceses across The Episcopal Church. Currently, the group is exclusively composed of members of the Millennial Generation and Generation Z, ranging from ages 15 to 29. I have interacted with members both within the Episcopal Fellowship for Renewal and members without in the other denominational chapters, and I am truly marveled by the amount of young Christians hungering for revival and renewal of America’s oldest Protestant denominations. Our chaplain advisor, the Rev. Jake Dell from the Episcopal Diocese of New York, published an article in The Living Church introducing Episcopal and Anglican readers to this grassroots movement and inviting supporters to link arms with us. We need allies both within The Episcopal Church and outside in the Anglican Church in North America, the Reformed Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Continuum to join or support our cause. The Episcopal Church restored to biblical orthodox teachings, as passed down from Christ through the Apostles to the saints, is critical for the health of American Anglicanism and benefits all Anglicans in the United States no matter what ecclesiastical body one is a member of. The loss of America’s largest Anglican body, the loss of historic churches as beacons within cities and the country alike, and the loss of the institutional legacy in American society only diminishes the presence of the Christian witness expressed through the Anglican tradition in the United States. We are all brothers and sisters in Anglicanism, and more importantly, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
A CALL TO OUR ANGLICAN BROTHERS AND SISTERS
As mentioned earlier, I know many readers may scoff at this mission to reclaim The Episcopal Church as a fool’s errand. I know that some readers who fought in the trenches in the decades from the 1960s to the 2000s will remark, we tried this, and it failed, why on Earth do you think it will change now? I know some readers were burned unjustly by the actions of more than a few Episcopal bishops and priests during the breaking away and formation of the ACNA and Continuing Anglican churches. I know some, perhaps most, readers are comfortable in their new conservative ACNA, REC, or Continuing Anglican homes. The goal of this article is to spread awareness of our fight to our fellow orthodox Anglican brothers and sisters and ask that they support us in any way God leads them to in this battle. As the Apostle Paul taught to the Church of Ephesus, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.” It is indeed not heterodox clergy that we are fighting in The Episcopal Church, but the evil spiritual powers influencing them and crumbling The Episcopal Church, that we are called to fight. I urge ACNA, REC, and Continuing Anglican parishes to seek out and partner with conservative Episcopalians and conservative Episcopal parishes to bolster the ranks through partnerships and fellowship. I call on ACNA, REC, and Continuing Anglican parishes to organize Daily Office prayer meetings with conservative Episcopal parishes, to engage in joint evangelistic outreach and missions, to form pan-Anglican Bible studies, and to host nights of corporate worship. Conservative Anglican A. Hugh Blankingship, Jr. in his historical sketch of the ACNA wrote in his conclusion that “there is still hope for the Episcopal Church.” Indeed the dream for all American Anglicans should be one, united Anglican church in the United States where The Episcopal Church is restored to biblical orthodoxy, and Anglicans in the ACNA, REC, the Continuum, and the revived Protestant Episcopal Church are praying together, singing together, listening to the sermon together, and consuming the Eucharist together in the same parish.
- While there is no official definition of “mainline Protestant”, the consensus holds that the following churches in the United States are considered mainline: (1) American Baptist Churches USA; (2) Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); (3) The Episcopal Church; and (4) Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; (5) Presbyterian Church (USA); (6) United Church of Christ; and (7) United Methodist Church. ↑
- Ryan P. Burge, “Mainline Protestants Are Still Declining, But That’s Not Good News for Evangelicals,” Christianity Today, July 13, 2021, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/july/mainline-protestant-evangelical-decline-survey-us-nones.html. ↑
- Michael Lipka, “Which U.S. religious groups are oldest and youngest?” Pew Research Center, July 11, 2016, https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2016/07/11/which-u-s-religious-groups-are-oldest-and-youngest/. ↑
- David Goodhew, “The Episcopal Church in 2050,” Covenant, The Living Church, January 11, 2021, https://covenant.livingchurch.org/2021/01/11/the-episcopal-church-in-2050/#:~:text=Predictions%20are%20circulating%20that%20the%20Episcopal%20Church%20will,deep%20decline%20might%20be%20slowed%20and%20even%20reversed. ↑
- Goodhew, “The Episcopal Church in 2050.” ↑
- Jonah 3:9-10 ↑
- This exists today in the Anglican Frontier Missions. Founded by Rev. Tad deBordenave of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, AFM holds that, “Christian mission is rooted in unchanging biblical revelation.” For more information, please visit their website at anglicanfrontiers.com. ↑
- Currently we are building the external face of our Episcopal-focused group, but for now we can be found on Instagram. ↑
- It should be noted that Operation Reconquista is not limited to the United States, but to the entire Western world. There is an Anglican chapter devoted to members of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Australia, and other Western-world Anglican provinces. There is also chapters devoted to European Reformed and Lutheran denominations. ↑
- Jake Dell, “Return of the Exiles: A How-To Guide for Restoring Faithfulness to Mainline Churches,” Covenant, The Living Church, July 27, 2023, https://covenant.livingchurch.org/2023/07/27/return-of-the-exiles-a-how-to-guide-for-restoring-faithfulness-to-mainline-churches/. ↑
- Ephesians 6:12 CSB ↑
- A. Hugo Blankingship, Jr., Reflections on the Anglican Church in North America, 78. ↑