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By David W. Virtue, DD
September 17, 2021

The average age of a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield is 61, with 40% over the age of 65. The percentage of priests aged between 55-64 is 37%. Most of the parishioners are geriatric, with few young people entering their churches.

The diocese closed three parishes (36 to 33) between 2011 and 2019, with more expected to follow post Covid. Baptized membership plunged from 5,229 to 3,666 between 2011 and 2019, a loss of 30%. Communicants dropped by a whopping 36.4% from 4,062 in 2011 to 2,583 in 2019, a loss of 1,479.

Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) in 2011 was 1,945; in 2019, it had plunged to 1,348 a loss of 30.7%! (St. Martin's in Houston has a larger ASA than this entire diocese).

The number of full-time priests of one congregation is 57%, which may be much lower following personal parish attendance following post Covid regulations.

Now the decline in the diocese is commensurate (or at least not different from) that in other dioceses.

The only reason to want this job as the diocese fades into the sunset or is merged with the Diocese of Chicago, is the excellent pension. The Midwest is an ecclesiastical graveyard for the Episcopal Church. Three dioceses are merging in Wisconsin, with Vermont facing a financial cliff, with several dioceses now being served by one bishop or interim bishop.

Still and all, nine priests are vying for the position to be the next bishop of Springfield, following the retirement of Bishop Dan Martins, an Anglo-Catholic bishop.

Two are women; one is from Springfield itself and one is from Oklahoma. Two are men from Springfield, one is from New Jersey, one is from New Hampshire, one is from Milwaukee, one is from Missouri (all liberal or progressive dioceses) and surprise, surprise one is from the evangelical diocese of Central Florida, none other than George Conger, priest and journalist.

To get elected, every candidate must be willing to sign off on General Convention resolution B012 which established homosexual marriage rites for the whole church. Resolution B012 saw the former bishop of Central Florida, John W. Howe resign over the passage of this resolution and the former Bishop of Albany, William Love forced out of his diocese because he refused to allow this unbiblical sexual behavior to be performed in his diocese.

Enter George Conger, the ambitious evangelical cleric from Central Florida. Is he qualified? Eminently so. He is by far away the most credentialed of all the candidates with a good track record in his own diocese. However, there is no love lost between Conger and his bishop, Greg Brewer, who may well be glad to see the back of him.

So, if Conger is elected, will he get consents from the HOB if his "impediment" is refusing to allow homosexuals and lesbians to marry in his diocese? How will he fudge that? Will Curry stand in his way, or attempt to block his consecration?

How anyone who holds conservative views could stand walking around general convention with bishops who do not share, at a minimum, your understanding of the gospel is mind blowing. Bishop Love agonized over this for years. He has now found a home among true believers in the ACNA.

I know a certain priest who was nominated for bishopric of a far west diocese, and it was down to he and one other candidate. The night before the election, Frank Griswold, then Presiding Bishop called each rector and said priest X hated gays. It was not true, of course, but the poor man lost.

Of course, Conger could say he would allow another (progressive) bishop to come and do the nasty and he could wash his hands, Pontius Pilate like, thus relieving himself of the guilt and shame. It is doubtful that will wash with God, but this is Episcopal church politics after all, and anything goes.

The next bishop will succeed the very person who oversaw Springfield's decline, Bishop Daniel Hayden Martins, who was elected in 2011 and retired June 30, 2021.


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