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Diocese of Eau Claire is in its Death Throes

Diocese of Eau Claire is in its Death Throes
Wisconsin's Three Dioceses face Uncertain Future

PHOTO: Christ Church Cathedral in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is one of only two congregations in the Diocese of Eau Claire that averages more than 80 worshippers on Sundays. Photo: Christ Church Cathedral, via Facebook

By David W. Virtue, DD
March 18, 2021

The Diocese of Eau Claire is at a crossroads, with all three Wisconsin dioceses eyeing greater collaboration, according to the Episcopal News Service.

Wisconsin has three Episcopal dioceses but, as of Jan. 1, only one active, full-time bishop, the Rt. Rev. Matthew Gunter, bishop of Fond du Lac. Gunter works from a hotel in the small, northwestern city of Eau Claire. He was elected in November as provisional bishop for two years.

The less-populated northern dioceses of Eau Claire and Fond du Lac nearly merged in 2011, but that plan ultimately was defeated in a close vote by the Fond du Lac diocesan convention. Now 10 years later, leaders from all three Wisconsin dioceses told ENS they are open to greater collaboration.

Christ Church Cathedral in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is one of only two congregations in the Diocese of Eau Claire that averages more than 80 worshippers on Sundays.

The Diocese of Eau Claire statistics tell the story.

In 2005, there were 2206 baptized members with an average Sunday attendance of 983, a percentage attendance of 44.5%.

By 2019, it was a different story. Baptized membership had dropped to 1246, with average Sunday attendance now down to 592, with a small percentage attendance uptick.

The losses from 2005 to 2019 of baptized members was down by 37.7%, ASA was down 43.5% with a slight uptick in attendance of 3%.

St. Katherine's in Owen has an ASA of 20. Our Saviour in Lugerville outside of Phillips, Wisconsin has an ASA of 8. Holy Trinity in Conrath outside of Ladysmith, Wisconsin has an ASA of 7. The bishop plans to visit them.

At that current rate of decline, the diocese will be unsustainable within a matter of a few short years.

It should be noted that the diocese prospered under Bishop William Wantland, an Anglo-Catholic bishop. The diocese declined steadily under revisionist/progressive bishops elected since Wantland's departure.

In the Diocese of Fond du Lac, the statistics are not much better. In 2005, the baptized numbered 6,620 and the ASA was 2,561, with attendance at 38.6%. By
2019, the number of baptized had dropped to 3,894 with ASA at 1,521, with attendance dropping by 39.1%. The overall losses were just over 40%.

The Diocese of Milwaukee statistics show that in 2005 that diocese had
12,787 baptized and the ASA was 4,934. The percentage attendance was 38.5%.
By 2019, the baptized had plunged to 7,805 and the ASA to 3,033, a percentage attendance drop of 42.3%. Overall percentage change from 2005 to 2019 for both groups was in the high 30's.

BAPTISMS. The baptisms of children revealed even bigger drops. In Eau Claire from 1980 to 2000, the number of children baptized dropped by 25.3%. From 2000 to 2019, the numbers dropped precipitously by 74.2% and overall from 1980 to 2019, the figure was 80.8%!

If the three Wisconsin dioceses merge -- Eau Claire, Milwaukee, and Fond du Lac -- it would become a single-state diocese. Wisconsin was originally a single state diocese, the Diocese of Wisconsin.

Eau Claire is one of the smallest domestic dioceses.

Another example of Midwestern blues for The Episcopal Church was the breakup of the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy. After 11 years of litigation, what was then then the largest lawsuit over the property of the former Episcopal Diocese of Quincy resulted in 18 of the 22 congregations of the small diocese voting to leave TEC in 2008 to form the Anglican Diocese of Quincy, part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). There was no exchange of real estate.

The diocese has since prospered under the Rt. Rev. Alberto Morales, now the Ninth Bishop of Quincy.

Putting all this in some perspective consider the following:

The number of domestic Dioceses with fewer than 2,000 baptized membership include the following:
Navajoland: 676
Northern Michigan: 1,196
Western Kansas: 1,361
TEC San Joaquin: 1,672
Eastern Oregon: 1,923

TOTAL: 8074

St. Martin's, Houston has a baptized membership of 9,300, more than these six combined dioceses in The Episcopal Church!

The number of Domestic Dioceses with fewer than 25 churches include the following:

Navajoland: 10
TEC Fort Worth: 16
TEC San Joaquin: 19
North Dakota: 19
Eastern Oregon: 21
Northern Michigan: 21
Utah: 23

The number of Domestic Dioceses with an ASA below 1,000 include:

Navajoland: 167
Northern Michigan: 385
Western Kansas: 536
North Dakota: 573
TEC San Joaquin: 745
Eastern Oregon: 871

The dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York agreed in October 2018 to share a bishop and seek other ways of combining administrative functions and pursuing joint ministries over five years. The dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan formalized a similar partnership in October 2019, ENS reported.

We are still not sure what the numbers will look like for the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth and the Episcopal Diocese of Albany once the dust has settled following litigation and the departure of Bishop William Love. In Ft. Worth, the Episcopal Church lost a decade's long legal battle with Bishop Jack Iker and the Anglo-Catholic diocese keeping millions of dollars' worth of properties in the hands of the Anglican Church in North America diocese. The departure of Albany Bishop William H. Love will see a number of parishes leave in a geographic area (Albany) that has been described as the most "post-Christian" city in a national ranking, according to survey analysis by the Barna Group.

Of course, TEC would have you believe it is all about demographics; aging and dying Episcopalians, with older Episcopalians moving to the sunbelt. But other factors include the growing theological and moral revisionism which has emptied pews, and the failure to draw in young people to fill pews despite all the talk of inclusion, diversity and "no outcasts". The deeper truth is if you do not have a distinctive fix on what the gospel is and your focus is mainly on homosexuality, racism, the environment and a whole range of social justice issues and woke leftist causes, then be prepared for your church to be taken over by Muslims, growing environmental organizations and senior citizen homes.


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