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Showing our age

Showing our age

The New York Times reports on the aging trend that is often reflected in Episcopal churches around the US:

With just 71 babies born on average for every 100 residents who die, Brooke County, in which Weirton is partly located, has the largest such gap in the nation among counties in metropolitan areas, save for a handful of places that are magnets for retirees. (Hancock County, which contains the other part of Weirton, is in similar demographic straits.)

The main reason Brooke County is so far off the national number — which is 171 births to 100 deaths — is that it has missed out on one of the dominant demographic trends to emerge from the recent census: the influx of young immigrants into communities across the United States. The median age for Hispanics, by far the largest immigrant group, is just 27, far lower than the median age for whites of 41.

Without immigrants or economic opportunities to keep its younger residents close to home, Brooke County and others like it are showing their age. At St. Paul Catholic Church in Weirton, the Rev. Larry Dorsch has buried 15 people this year and baptized one. …

Fewer people means, inevitably, less of a sense of community. Father Dorsch spends his days looking for ways to revive it. …

“It’s like a clinically depressed person, who curls up on the couch and withdraws,” he said of Weirton. “It’s the hardest assignment I’ve ever had.”

The demographics have created a death spiral, both literal and metaphorical

Is this the story of your church? Is part of The Episcopal Church’s decline in numbers because our membership is predominately aging white folks?

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Tom Sramek Jr

Good point, Scott. Actually, I think demographics hurt us more in that we didn't need to share the Good News of Jesus Christ fifty years ago for our churches to grow, the time when most of the current (aging) crop of people arrived. They just came to church, often in droves. They came to find good moral education for their children (who are no longer there), somewhere that still sings the hymns and prays the prayers of their childhood, and somewhere to hang out with their friends for a potluck on a regular basis. Now that neither is particularly compelling, we're left to try to remember the purpose of church in the first place--fostering a transformational relationship with God in Christ.

The challenge is, that isn't why most folks who have sat in our pews for the last three decades or more came, and there is a strong desire to serve those we already have. It is a huge challenge to, as Tom Brackett says, turn a hospice into a birthing center. Birthing centers are loud, noisy, constantly changing places that are not conducive to calm reflection and peaceful decline. The irony is that to thrive in the twenty-first century, we almost have to do precisely the opposite of what most folks in the pews want--and that is an extremely tough sell.

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Scott Gunn

Demographics have not helped us. Or to put it another way, our earlier growth in the 1950s and 1960s stopped when we could no longer ride the population wave.

However, this is not the reason for our decline. Our decline is caused by our failure to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. So let's fix that.

Peace,

Scott+

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