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Statistics paint a picture of a spiritually unhealthy church

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
June 13, 2023

The Episcopal Executive Council is meeting. This time without its leader, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry who is at home in North Carolina recovering from health issues that not only hospitalized him that are sidelining him for the while.

So, in his absence the Executive Council has decided to rearrange the deck chairs on The Episcopal Church's sinking ship -- SS TEC.

The confab, being held in Providence, Rhode Island, is being chaired by House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris, who is trying to spin the haunting negative into a positive good.

The Episcopal News Service reports: "The Episcopal Church is 'being called to let go of our scarcity mindset and embrace the abundant blessings that the Holy Spirit has given us," [Julia Ayala Harris] said, adding, 'at the churchwide level, we sometimes talk too much about numbers, numbers of people in the pews, and not enough about the fruit of our ministries.'"

The fact is that numbers, facts and figures are important. Those very numbers, facts and figures are one way to keep track of the temporal health and vitality of an organization.

It is important to count the "numbers of people in the pews." It is the people in the pews who sustain the church through their membership, participation, and financial support.

Nowadays, the Episcopal Church is missing a great number of people in the pews.

The Rev. Molly James, deputy executive officer of General Convention noted the obvious: "We are declining, in that we have fewer parishes and fewer people."

The latest 2021 domestic statistics show that there are 1,522,688 who identify as Episcopalians, of which 19.2% show up for weekly church services across 6,294 American churches. Only 292,851 people warm domestic Episcopal Church pews during any given week.

"While there are downward trends and challenges in our data, I also believe there is much cause for hope," Ms. James said. "This time of decline can be an opportunity for transformation, particularly because we have such tremendous resources -- financial, material and human -- to meet the needs of communities in which we are already present and those in which we don't yet have an Episcopal presence."

However, the health of the church is not necessarily measured by her external fruit -- financial, material, and human resources -- but in her internal fruits -- baptisms, confirmations, and spiritual conversions.

It is more important to feed a child of God with the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist from the Altar than to give him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the street corner outside the church. In 2021, there were 1,083,482 communicant members in the domestic Episcopal Church.

In 2021, there were 13,859 domestic baptisms -- 12,410 children and 1,449 adults. There were also 9,869 confirmations -- 4,523 children and 5,347 adults. Another 3,076 were received into The Episcopal Church.

One domestic diocese, the Navajoland, had no baptisms in 2021; and the Diocese of Eau Claire had no adult baptisms.

Six dioceses had no children confirmed. They were the dioceses of Eastern Michigan, Northern Michigan, Western Kansas, Eastern Oregon, Northwest Texas and the Navajoland. Another four dioceses had no adults confirmed, including: the dioceses of Eastern Oregon, Alaska, Northern Michigan, and the Navajoland.

The Diocese of Idaho had no converts coming into The Episcopal Church.

This is not the picture of a spiritually healthy religious community.

The Executive Council also learned that "LGBTQ+ priests now make up about one in four in The Episcopal Church. Men outnumber women as priests, but women are being ordained at growing rates, especially as bishops. More and more people of color have been consecrated as bishops or called to other senior leadership positions, though clergy of color still lag far behind those of white clergy in parish calls."

As the Episcopal Church seeks to embrace the woke trinity of diversity, inclusion and equity it not only suffers from lack of people in the pews, it is also suffering from a lack of candidates seeking the priesthood.

The Episcopal Church is now facing a clergy shortage as fewer Episcopalians seek ordination.

In 2010, the Episcopal Church ordained 325 priests. That number dropped to 225 in 2022. Yet about 400 priests retire each year, widening the gap between the number of priests available to fill empty pulpits.

Many of the newly-ordained priests are second vocation priests. After retiring from an initial secular vocation, they turn to the Episcopal priesthood later in life.


Parishes: 6,294
Membership: 1,522,688
Communicants: 1,083,483
AWA: 292,851 (Average Weekly Attendance)
% Attendance: 19.2%

Baptisms: 13,859
~Child: 12,410
~Adult: 1,449
Confirmations: 9,869
~Child: 4,522
~Adult: 5,347

Received: 3,076
Weddings: 4,250
Funerals: 23,127

Funerals outnumbered baptisms by almost 2-1.

Plate & Pledge: $1,335,654,413

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

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