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How many Episcopal churches are there?

How many Episcopal churches are there?
That is a riddle with no one answer

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
January 9, 2017

It is almost impossible to figure out how many churches there are in The Episcopal Church. The exact figure is as hard to pin down as finding the Loch Ness Monster.

The Episcopal Church Table of Statistics only holds a clue. Each year since 2002, the Episcopal General Convention puts out a detailed report which highlights the statistical spiritual health of the entire church. It reveals how many baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals have been recorded. It shows the membership of the church in terms of baptized, communicants and others distilled into an ASA. It also shows the number of registered Sunday school pupils as well as the number of open churches and missions.

However, the number of open churches figure doesn't seem to tally with any other calculations that are out there.

The latest Table of Statistics shows that there were 6,553 parishes and missions in the domestic church, adding another 491 congregations in the various foreign dioceses, showing that there were 7,044 reporting parishes and missions worldwide in The Episcopal Church during the 2014 calendar year.

The 2015 Fast Facts has been released, showing that 6,510 open domestic Episcopal congregations filed their parochial report. However, not all congregations file a parochial report as required by Canon I.6.1: "A report of every Parish or other Congregation of this Church shall be prepared annually for the year ending December 31 preceding ..."

It is now 2017 and the complete 2015 Table of Statistics has yet to be posted; just a few facts from the comprehensive report have dribbled out through the earlier 2015 Fast Facts released in late September.

Episcopal Cafe, a liberal episcopal blog, reports that Episcopal congregations are to "receive mailed material related to the 2016 Parochial Report in the first full week of December."

The Cafe also reports Episcopal Church Congregational Research Officer, Kirk Hadaway, said, "However, this year the packets will not include a hard copy of the report."

Instead, the 2016 Parochial Report packet is to include a letter from the Executive Officer of the General Convention, Canon Michael Barlowe, instructing parishes how to file their parochial report online. If a paper report is needed, it can be downloaded from the General Convention website or The Episcopal Church website.

The Fast Facts deals only with the American church. It shows that the 2015 ASA was 574,780, a drop of 20,631 souls from the 2014 Table of Statistics' 600,411 figure, or a 3.4% loss of the number of people in the pews on a Sunday.

That mini report also shows that St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston remains the largest Episcopal congregation, with 9,064 members -- an increase of 213 souls from 2014. However, fewer than two thousand show up for church on Sunday.

In recent years, St. Martin's hasn't always been the largest Episcopal congregation. In 2001, that honor went to two other Lone Star State congregations: St. Michael and All Angels in Dallas (membership) and Christ Church in Plano (ASA). In 2003, St. Martin's wrestled the status of being the largest Episcopal congregation away from St. Michael's, but Christ Church-Plano kept the highest ASA (more than 2,000) until leaving the Episcopal fold in 2006. Then, briefly, in 2006, St. Martin's had the most Sunday attendees, but the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, held the highest ASA honors for the years 2007-2009. In 2010, St. Martin's again regained top billing for the peak ASA (even though it remains below 2,000) and has kept the distinction since then.

In 2002, there were 234 congregations with fewer than 10 attending Sunday services. In 2009, that number rose to 276 churches in 76 American dioceses with fewer than 10 members worshipping on a Sunday. Since then, there has been a steady increase of small congregations just hanging on by a thread. The latest 2015 Fast Facts figures show that there are 362 congregations with fewer than 20 members, of which 329 churches have fewer than ten attending Sunday worship.

Other officially released 2015 TEC research also shows that of the 7,279 non- retired working priests, a total of 2,581 (35%) are women. Two of their number recently became bishop: (Audrey Scanlan (XI Central Pennsylvania) in 2015 and De-De- Duncan-Probe (XI Central New York) in 2016. There has been a total of 23 women bishops to join the ranks of the Episcopal House of Bishops. One has died -- Jane Dixon (Washington, DC -Suffragan); one has been defrocked -- Heather Cook (Maryland-Suffragan); and one became the church's top bishop -- Katharine Jefferts Schori (XXVI Presiding Bishop). Now, another woman priest, Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, is slated to join the HOB this April as the XI Bishop of Indianapolis.

But the question still remains: just how many Episcopal congregations are there in the United States?

Counting the churches listed on The Episcopal Church's website's, Studying Your Congregation and Community bar graphs, shows there are 6,330 individual domestic congregations listed. However, checking each separate diocese's website reveals that there are 6,694 identifiable domestic congregations listed on the various parish locators. The Episcopal Church's main Find-A-Church webpage shows a head count of 6,767 domestic churches.

Getting an accurate church count from the online Episcopal Clerical Directory (ECD), put out by the Church Pension Fund, is even more dicey. The ECD lists 5,405 parishes and 1,622 missions for a total of 7,027 congregations worldwide. The 2014 Table of Statistics worldwide tally for parishes and missions was 7,044. The ECD shows a worldwide drop of 17 congregations since 2014.

However, the online Episcopal Clerical Directory also separates the parishes and missions from cathedrals (90); chapels (66); college chapels (39); summer chapels (123); historical churches (75); congregational clusters (9); preaching stations (99); and 65 other chapels including in prisons, assisted living facilitates and nursing homes. So are there at least 7,593 worshipping communities of some sort in The Episcopal Church worldwide? How many are in the United States?

To be sure there have been some Episcopal parishes -- usually mission churches -- in each diocese which have been scrubbed from the face of the earth, as one by one, they have closed due to lack of membership and financial backing. In fact, the entire Episcopal Diocese of Quincy has faded into history.

In 2013, what was left of the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy was reabsorbed by the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, following the smaller diocese's leaving The Episcopal Church in 2008 to align with the spiritually vibrant Global South, through the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. Five years later, the remaining nine TEC congregations with their 672 members became the new Peoria Deanery within the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.

The underlying question which remains: How many Episcopal churches are there in the United States, is still open for debate and so is the interpretation of statistics. There seems to be no definitive answer.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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