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Once thriving Episcopal parishes fade into history on a yearly basis

Once thriving Episcopal parishes fade into history on a yearly basis
TEC loses 2,000 parishes in a century

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
September 23, 2018

St. David's Episcopal Church faded into history last week after proclaiming the Gospel in Lakeland, Florida for six and a half decades. St. David's is not the first Episcopal church to disappear from the map, nor will it be the last.

The Episcopal Church started keeping track of the number of open congregations in 1855. That year there were 1,821 Episcopal churches dotting the map, mostly along the Eastern Seaboard, in the South and along the Midwestern frontier. The highwater mark came in 1915 during World War I, when there were 8,506 worshipping locations.

In 1955, ten years after the close of World War II -- a mere two years after St. David's was founded as a daughter church to All Saints in Lakeland -- there were 8,053 parishes and missions in the church. But, by the mid-20th century, during the midst of the massive post war baby boom, the number of Episcopal congregations was steadily falling.

In 1966, the baptized membership of the church peaked at 3,647,297 souls worshipping in 7,593 congregations. But that reflected was a drop of 460 (-5.7%) churches from 1955 and a greater shedding of 943 (-10.7%) congregations since 1915.

By 2017, the final full year St. David's was a functioning congregation, there were 6,447 churches dotting the United States. That reflects a drop of 1,146 (-15.1%) missions and parishes since 1966 and a whopping decline of 2,059 (-24.2%) churches in 100 years (1915).

For the first time, in 2015, the total number of open Episcopal parishes worldwide dipped below 7,000 to 6,996 worship locations.

During the past decade, open Episcopal churches in America have slid from 7,055 in 2007 to 6,447 (-8.6%) in 2017, a drop of 508 congregations, averaging about one church closure a week. In all likelihood, another Episcopal church has closed somewhere since the news of St. David's first broke two weeks ago.

When the full slate of The Episcopal Church's 2018 statistics is released next year, St. David's will not be included. But neither will All Saints in Buffalo, New York, which closed in 2007; or Church of the Mediator -- Chicago, Illinois (2007); St. Barnabas --Kyle, South Dakota (2008); St. John's -- Oglala, South Dakota (2008); St. Timothy -- Potato Creek, South Dakota (2008); St. Andrew -- Wakpamni Lake, South Dakota (2008); St. Michael & All Angels -- North Avondale, Ohio (2008); Holy Cross -- Troy, New York (2009); Grace -- Galion, Ohio (2009); St. Paul's -- Brockton, Massachusetts (2010) St. Peter's -- Tecumseh, Michigan (2010); St. Stephen's -- Reno, Nevada (2010); St. Mark's -- Yreka, California (2011); St. Mark's -- Toledo, Ohio (2011); Redeemer -- Houston, Texas (2011); St. Matthew -- Woodhaven, New York (2011); St. George's -- Seattle, Washington (2011); St. John's Cathedral -- Providence, Rhode Island (2012); Calvary -- Dinwiddie, Virginia (2012); Christ -- Avon, Connecticut (2012); Redeemer, Long Island, New York (2012); Sr. Margret's -- Fleming Island, Florida (2012); and Grace -- New Orleans (2012).

Other Episcopal congregations which have recently folded include: St. Andrew -- Charlotte, North Carolina (2013); Our Savior -- Lugerville, Wisconsin (2013); St. Mary's Thorndike, Massachusetts (2014); Holy Cross & St. Philip's -- Cumberland, Maryland (2104); St. John's in Fort Hamilton -- Brooklyn, New York (2014); St. Paul's --
Port Huron, Michigan (2015); St. Paul's -- St. Paul, Minnesota (2015); Holy Spirit -- Wayland, Massachusetts (2015); Christ Church -- Xenia, Ohio (2015); Ascension -- Buffalo, NY (2015) St. Paul's -- Palmyra, Missouri (2015); St. Michael's -- Gainesville, Florida (2016); Advent -- Chicago, Illinois (2016); St. Andrew -- Newhallville, Connecticut (2016) St. John's -- Sandy Hook, Connecticut (2016); St. John's Charles Village, Maryland (2017); St. Andrew -- Cloquet, Minnesota (2017); Trinity -- Renovo, Pennsylvania (2017); St. Andrew's -- Dayton, Ohio (2017); Christ Church -- Zillah, Washington (2018); and St. John's -- Whitesboro, New York (2018).

Currently, there are living Episcopalians who still remember these congregations. But in another 50 years, who will remember. Within one hundred years, each church will have been relegated to an asterisk in historical documents and diocesan records.

The living memory of each congregation will be wiped out and so will be the Episcopal witness to that community. The light of Christ, as Episcopalians shine it, is extinguished in the neighborhood. The Episcopal Church stands empty or has been sold to another -- hopefully Christian congregation -- or deconsecrated for a variety of secular uses.

How many more years will it take for the number of active American Episcopal congregations to fall below 6,000, 5,000, or 4,000?

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

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