Support the Café

Search our Site

RIch church, poor church

RIch church, poor church

Does the polity of the Episcopal Church make it more difficult for us to minister among the poor?

Think about it. Our churches are supposed to be self-sustaining. If you look around the country, the ones that are truly flourishing are located disproportionately in affluent neighborhoods and have affluent members. Diocesan budgets are lean and not geared to providing long-term support to churches that are never going to become financially self-sufficient.

Does this keep us from sustaining communities of faith in poor neighborhoods where the church, in many ways, is needed most? I am not asking whether this keeps us from providing charitable support to individual people, doing “outreach” in needy neighborhoods or working politically for economic justice. I am asking whether our structures limit the kinds of communities in which the Episcopal Church can have churches.

What do you think?


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
it's margaret

Thank you for this discussion.

I serve nine churches on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. The Reservation is the size of the State of Connecticut. The population is some of the poorest in the nation (near 80% unemployment) –and some of the least densely populated. Most priests who serve on Reservations in South Dakota serve five or more churches.

I make about half what I could make working off the Reservation, even in South Dakota –which is a Missionary Diocese –a Diocese supported in part by General Convention. I make in the range of $34,000 for full time 24/7 work, before taxes, with which the Diocese does not help or pay a portion of (Social Security –I pay the full amount, no employer contribution). I am humbled by our Bishop who refuses to take the minimum recommended salary for a Bishop, but also submits to the pay scale of mission clergy. These salaries impact our retirement, our health care, our food –everything. But to take more in this neighborhood would be a very, very bad sign…

And, yes, I think our polity does affect our willingness to work in impoverished areas. And I think that the Church at large does not comprehend the nature of the work here –I do about 60 baptisms a year, and about 50 funerals (I’ve had 28 so far this year). But more important than numbers –the Church is a matter of identity. And so many churches could benefit by learning more… .

But, it is so sad –I have offers to send masks and gloves to help clean up mouse poop… we get used and dirty clothing as ‘donations’… we get linens torn and full of holes… we get sent old, falling apart prayerbooks –including some dating from the period of “Trial Use”….

–and I get to witness the true generosity and faith of individuals from so many places…

It is my constant prayer that our Church will not give up its support of ministry to the many Native American Reservations –and that it will increase its support of rural and poor urban congregations. There are two Roman Catholic priests to serve this Reservation –and they have only five churches. And their retirement is not dependent upon their current salaries.

There is much we could do. So much more we could do. We need to stabilize the buildings we have, we need to get green energy going here –sun and wind, low maintenance stuff like I see being sent to Africa –but can I get it here? Nope. I need water systems (only two of the nine churches I serve have power, heat and water).

Our needs are overwhelming. And they will be for a very long time in to the future.

But, it’s not the polity –it’s knowing our circumstances here –and having the willingness to help –long term.

–margaret watson


One radical solution would be to do as some states do with regard to school districts: all income, certainly from annual giving but ideally endowments as well, goes straight to the diocese and then gets apportioned back to individual congregations on some sort of equitable, per parishioner basis.

Laura Leist Catalano

This story has stuck with me for a few months. The church serving shift workers with limited access to transportation will be very different…

“Terran Lyons, McDonald’s Crew Trainer, on Raising 2 on the Minimum Wage”

Paul Woodrum

If by ‘church’ what one means is main line Episcopal or Protestant congregations, then the poor are neither well-served nor integrated into these middle class, congregationally centered faith communities. My premonition is that congregational polity, even with bishops, is the biggest culprit.

The economically poor, however, are part of the church in Latin Rite parishes and in thousands of small Pentecostal congregations that in Brooklyn, NY, where I live, are frequently two or three to the block. The poorer the community, it seems, the more there are.

It may be a pity the Church is divided along economic lines, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and serve in every class.

And we might remember, on that day when our Lord Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead, it is the last who shall be first.

Laura Leist Catalano

John: I disagree with your fist assumption that people can and will travel to go to a church. Public transport is not cheap and efficient in many cities, suburbs and rural areas. Poor and working class may travel 1 or 2 hours on public transportation to cover a distance that would be 15 minutes in a private car. Would many do that for church?

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café