Bishop Curry’s ‘Love’ Language Doesn’t Halt Episcopal Decline

Evangelistic language and exhortations to embrace the “Jesus Movement” by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry have not yet resulted in a decrease in Episcopal Church decline, Jeff Walton reports

Evangelistic language and exhortations to embrace the “Jesus Movement” by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry have not yet resulted in a decrease in Episcopal Church decline, according to statistics recently released by the Office of the General Convention.

Episcopalians continue a multi-year decline in both membership and attendance in 2017.

A loss of 13,709 attendees to a total of 556,744 resulted in a 2.4% decline in average Sunday attendance (ASA), despite occurring in a year when Christmas Eve occurred on a Sunday, which typically boosts attendance figures. The church’s 10 year decline in attendance currently stands at 24%. The mean ASA is 55 persons, down from 57 in 2016.

Membership experienced a more gradual drop, down 32,593 (1.9%) to 1,712,563 baptized members in U.S. domestic dioceses. Membership, attendance, and plate-and-pledge income are among three objective data points tracked year-over-year by the denomination.

Curry, elected as Presiding Bishop at the denomination’s 2015 General Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, has garnered significant media attention for his embrace of language associated with evangelism and revival. In May of 2018 he delivered a homily at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in the United Kingdom. The address led to numerous televised interviews in the following days in which Curry repeated his message that “love is the way”.

Uninterrupted Decline

Most Episcopal Church dioceses across the United States experienced declines in membership and attendance, with those in the northeastern Province I hit hardest (down 2% in membership and 4.2% in attendance) followed by the upper Midwest Province V (down 3.2% in membership and 3.6% in attendance). Rural and Rustbelt dioceses continue the steepest declines, which are more gradual in the South and Mid-Atlantic regions.

The tiny Diocese of Northern Michigan – known for selecting a Zen Buddhist bishop-elect in 2009 whose election was denied necessary consent by the wider church – continues to be among the hardest-hit, experiencing a 12.7% decline in ASA, now down to 411 persons. The rump Episcopal Diocese of Quincy was prompted to juncture into the neighboring Diocese of Chicago when it reached approximately 380 attendees. While a juncture of dioceses could save on administrative expenses and shared resources, it would also result in the loss of eight seats in the church’s House of Deputies, making for a strong disincentive. Each diocese in the church may send a delegation of four clergy and four lay delegates to the triennial General Convention, regardless of the size of the diocese.

“Renewing dioceses” attempting to rebuild after their leaders and majority of congregants voted to depart the Episcopal Church continue to be a mixed bag: the Episcopal Church in South Carolina reports a 3.6% gain in membership and a 1.2% decline in attendance, while the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin suffered a 5.3% drop in members and 6.9% drop in attendance to 810. The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth declined 0.5% in members and 5.1% in attendance, while Pittsburgh lost 4% of members but inched up 1.3% in attendance.

Some of the “Communion Partner” dioceses which have opted out of same-sex marriage rites held steady. Albany experienced a modest 1% drop in members and 0.4% drop in attendance, Dallas also had a 1% drop in members and a 0.3% drop in attendance. Central Florida saw a 2.3% decline in members but only a 0.5% drop in attendance. Florida was a rare diocese to see both membership (1.8%) and attendance (0.2%) growth, with Tennessee close behind at 0.2% growth in members and a 0% change in attendance. Springfield (Central and Southern Illinois) saw only a 0.3% drop in members, but a 5.7% drop in attendance, North Dakota experienced a 3.4% drop in members but only a 0.8% drop in attendance.

In contrast, some of the denomination’s steeper losses were in some progressive dioceses. New England dioceses of Vermont and New Hampshire faced 5% and 5.1% declines in attendance, respectively, with Rhode Island decreasing 5.7%. Other dioceses facing outsized attendance declines were El Camino Real (Central California coast) 5.7%, Northern California at 5.4%, Navajo Missions at 12.4%, Micronesia at 10%, West Missouri at 5.1%, Northwest Texas at 5.2%, South Dakota at 5.1%, Ohio at 5.2%, Central Pennsylvania at 5%, and Louisiana at 7.7%.

A few dioceses reporting attendance growth were Rochester, New York at 12.3%, breaking a long trend of decline with an increase of 368 attendees to 3,362, and Central Gulf Coast at 2.7%, with an increase of 152 attendees to 5,686. The tiny rural diocese of Western Kansas increased attendance 3.2%, increasing by 18 persons to 574 in total. Overseas dioceses including Taiwan and Columbia also reported increased attendance of 10.3% and 11.3%, respectively.

The list of 2017 statistics by province and diocese can be accessed here:

The church’s official 2017 table of statistics includes information on baptisms, confirmations, receptions, weddings and burials and is typically released in December. Complete 2016 statistics can be accessed by clicking here (This report will be updated when 2017 statistics are made available).

Reprinted from Juicy Ecumenism

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