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Episcopal Percentages Tell the Tale of Woe

Episcopal Percentages Tell the Tale of Woe
There is more to The Episcopal Church decline than just raw numbers

By Mary Ann Mueller
Special Correspondent
October 11, 2021

There is more to determining the health of a congregation other than counting the number of worshippers on any given Sunday, how many names are on the membership rolls, or how full are the church's coffers. Those are the external indications of a parish's viability.

However, it is the internal and deeply spiritual aspects of a parish -- corporate prayer, the celebration of the Sacraments, and sustained personal ministry -- which sets a vibrant church apart from a spiritually dead one.

The Episcopal Church's soft underbelly has been revealed during the Year-of-COVID. The severely tumbling percentages tell the tale of woe.

The Episcopal Church is made up of domestic and foreign dioceses. When the church reports its numbers, it includes all the dioceses which span the globe, but that doesn't give a clear picture of the American church.

Factoring out the statistics from the foreign dioceses gives a much sharper view of how The Episcopal Church is doing on American soil.

The foreign dioceses include: Europe, Haiti, the Virgin Islands, Micronesia, Taiwan, Cuba, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Central Ecuador, Litoral Ecuador, Honduras, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

These dioceses have a baptized membership of 160,087 spread across 487 congregations in Europe, Eurasia, Asia, the Caribbean, South America, Central America, Oceana, and Hispaniola.

The Episcopal Church is very proud of the fact that the Diocese of Haiti is its largest diocese in church membership. There are more than 11.5 million people crammed into a space of 10,700 square miles, roughly the size of Massachusetts which has a population of seven million.

Haiti's baptized membership is 97,341 with an ASA of 14,469. Only 14.8% show up on a Sunday. The Hattian diocese had 1,118 baptisms in 2020 with 35 confirmations and no reception of converts. There were also 134 weddings and 155 funerals.

Working with the recently released 2020 statistics, using skewered ASA statistics, shows two American dioceses have a greater ASA then Haiti including: Texas (20,933); and Virginia (17,237).

The small nation, located in the Greater Antilles, is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The country is racked by a series of natural disasters. A 7.0 earthquake hit in January 2010 killing more than 200,000, followed up by a cholera epidemic in October sickening 350,000 people. Then in August 2021 a 7.2 earthquake struck killing more than 2,000 people.

In between the two major earthquakes five hurricanes impacted the struggling nation: Tomas (2010); Sandy (2012); Matthew (2016); Irma (2017); and Laura (2020). in 2021 tropical storms Fred and Grace impacted the country while the Haitians were trying to dig out from the recent August earthquake and its aftershocks.

Weather and natural disasters are not the only problems Haitians experience. Their country is in chaos following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and systemic political corruption. Marauding violent gangs make life unbearable where food is scarce and employment scarcer as much of the nation's infrastructure and housing was damaged or destroyed by the two strong earthquakes and repeated tropical storms.

Thousands have fled the country landing in Mexico to wade across the Rio Grande seeking a better life anywhere else than in Haiti. Last month thousands of Haitians set up primitive housekeeping in the shade cast by the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

On Sept. 22 the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations issued a statement on the unfolding humanitarian crises in Del Rio.

"The situation in Del Rio on the United States-Mexico border with an estimated 14,000 migrants, mostly from Haiti, is a jarring manifestation of economic, human rights, environmental, and migration crises," the statement said. "The Episcopal Church decries the treatment of these migrants in Del Rio and denounces racism both explicit and systemic, just as we urge for broader changes to international assistance and immigration policy."

The migrant village has been cleared out, but thousands more are reportedly heading to the Rio Grande with their sights set the Lone Star State. Another under-the-bridge humanitarian crisis may be in the making.

While Haiti maybe the largest Episcopal Church diocese, the missionary Diocese of Micronesia is the tiniest with all of two congregations -- one on Guam and the other in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Micronesia has a combined baptized membership of 222 and an overall ASA of 52. In 2020 there were two children baptized; but no adults were baptized, zero confirmations, no converts, zero weddings and no funerals.

The twin Micronesia churches turn to Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick (V Hawaii) for his episcopal leadership and the celebration of confirmation. But going from Hawaii to his missionary diocese in Micronesia is not an easy task.

Factoring out the foreign diocesan statistics gives a clearer picture of the spiritual health of The Episcopal Church on American soil with the Diocese of Alaska being the largest geographic diocese at 571,951 square miles and a population density of fewer than two souls per square mile, with the Diocese of Rhode Island being the smallest domestic diocese at 1,214 square miles and the population density of more than thousand persons per square mile.

Percentages, rather than raw numbers, tell the domestic Episcopal Church's deeper story. There is a 0.8% drop in the number of congregations, and a 3.8% drop in baptized membership, with a slide of 5.7% in communicants, and the 11.7% drop in the ASA.

The ASA figures are suspect because during the Year-of-COVID only nine Sunday attendances were counted. The Sundays included were: January 5, 12, 19, and 26; February 2, 9, 16, and 23; and March 1.

Two weeks later on March 15 the world was shutting down for COVID including Episcopal churches. Easter services were canceled as was Christmas nine months later. For the most part churches were closed or underutilized for the remaining 43 Sundays in 2020, yet only the first nine Sundays of the year were counted and used as a representative head count for the rest of the year when the churches were left closed and empty.

With public schools being closed Episcopal Sunday school classes did not meet. Any mention of Sunday school attendance is totally scrubbed from the 2020 Parochial Report.

People of faith turn to their houses of worship for marking the spiritual aspects of their life's events. Baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals bring people to the church to reach out to God during the most important and poignant moments of their life.

The Jewish turn to their faith expression when they circumcise and name their baby boys on the eighth day and come again for his Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah for girls) at 13 celebrating his coming of age.

Hispanic Catholics celebrate the Quinceañera to mark the transition from girlhood to womanhood and thank God for her safe passage through the difficulties of childhood.

But with churches locked down due to COVID the celebratory services almost came to a grinding halt reflecting a steep drop in numbers. Such a drop in numbers, and percentages, are usually seen in decennial comparisons not yearly statistics.

Weddings have dropped by 45.8%. The new terminology employed by The Episcopal Church is "marriage services" which includes traditional weddings and same-sex rites without having to identify the gender of the participants.

Funerals are rebranded as "burial services." It almost sounds like a mortuary's offering of their burial packages: funeral planning, grief counseling, caskets, cremation, gravestones, funeral rites ...

There was an overall 35.8% drop in Episcopal funerals.

Both the "marriage services" and "burial services" come with online streaming options. Of the 5,302 Episcopal weddings celebrated 289 were online, and a total of 1,534 online services made up the 16,565 Episcopal funerals in 2020.

Death isn't scheduled. A wedding, baptism or confirmations can be rescheduled, but it's hard to put a funeral off. But because of the severity of the weather in the northern states, many funeral homes offer immediate church funeral rites followed by a "spring burial" after the ground thaws. The church funeral service is still held in a timely manner.

Converts being received into The Episcopal Church took a huge hit. The number of Christians seeking to become Episcopalians dropped by 76.1%. People are not pounding on red Episcopal church doors clamoring to come in and become a part of the progressive all-embracive and all-inclusive liberal religious body.

Baptisms and confirmations were slashed. There was a 64.4% drop in overall baptisms reflecting a 62.5% drop for child baptisms and a 64.5% drop for adults.

Confirmations fared even worse. There was a 75.8% drop in the total confirmed reflecting a 77.1% drop in youth confirmations and a 74.7% drop in adults seeking the laying-on-of-hands by an Episcopal bishop.

During the Year-of-COVID Episcopalians did not turn to the church for their touchstone life events such as baptism, confirmation, weddings, and funerals.

One quarter of the domestic American Episcopal dioceses had no 2020 child and/or adult confirmations. The 25 dioceses include: Alaska (Child & Adult); Bethlehem (Child & Adult); Central New York (Child & Adult); Eastern Michigan (Child & Adult); Idaho (Child); Indianapolis (Child); Kansas (Child); Kentucky (Child & Adult); Los Angeles (Child & Adult); Michigan (Child & Adult); and Minnesota (Child & Adult).

Also: The Navajoland (Child & Adult); Nevada (Child); Newark (Child & Adult); North Dakota (Adult); Northern Michigan (Child & Adult); Northwest Texas (Child); Northwestern Pennsylvania (Child & Adult); San Diego (Child); San Joaquin (Adult) Vermont (Child); Western Kansas (Child & Adult); West Virginia (Child & Adult); Western Michigan (Child & Adult); and Wyoming (Child & Adult).

Another 15 dioceses had no converts received. They include: Bethlehem, Central New York, Eastern Michigan, Fond du Lac, Kentucky, Idaho, Milwaukee, Navajoland, Newark, Northwest Texas, Northwestern Pennsylvania, Spokane, Utah, Western Kansas, and Western Michigan.

Five American dioceses recorded no adult and/or child baptisms during 2020 including: Eau Claire (Adult); Eastern Oregon (Adult); El Camino Real (Adult); Montana (Adult) and the Navajoland (Child & Adult).

Only one domestic diocese recorded no marriages and that was the Navajoland.

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

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