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There aren’t as many Episcopalians as there used to be

There aren’t as many Episcopalians as there used to be

Active membership in The Episcopal Church has dipped below 2 million, after a three percent decline in 2010. The numbers are here.


I know it is fashionable, and possibly theologically correct, to say that numbers don’t tell the true story of a church’s value or fidelity, and I am aware that there are signs of vitality all over the Episcopal Church, but these numbers suggest an abbreviated future for our brand of Christianity, at a time when it seems to me that the world needs it more than ever.

Rather than devote ourselves to reversing this trend, we seem to be on the verge of spending the next four or five years arguing about more pressing matters, such as the size of the House of Deputies. And, while I am as eager as the next person to test the proposition that people searching for meaning and transcendence in a materialistic post-modern culture are powerfully attracted to increased ecclesial efficiency, I wonder if we have chosen the best time for an extended examination of our belly buttons.

For as spiritually invigorating as the debate over whether 880 people should meet every three years, or 660 should people meet every four years, will no doubt be, I don’t think it is going to save us.

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Michael Strong

The bog above written by Jeffrey Shy MD states very well how many Episcopalians feel. Since I have lived in S California, I have seen Calvary grow from a tent in Costa Mesa, the Vineyard from the gym in the local Junior/High, Saddleback appear from a small Bible Study and an Anglo Catholic Church appear 5-7 years ago and already attract not just more Sunday worshippers than us but appeal mainly to the 20-40's. In other words, the number of local Christian church-goers has grown amazingly while we have declined. Their ministries serve apparently every aspect of spiritual desolation. Have we learned from this? No. Do we actually even want to learn from this? Not as far as I can see. Does a newcomer to Christianity want to spend Sunday morning debating whether the resurrection happened - per the Jesus Seminar? The Unitarians probably do a better job on philosophy and ethics. What actually do we offer people? A dusted up civil rights movement? Moral leadership squabbling over real estate? A place to purge the right wing, as in S Carolina? Can we easily reconcile Title IV with our contempt for the Anglican Covenant?

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E Sinkula

We also need to be concerned not so much about the numbers of Episcopalians we have or want as how to increase our numbers of younger members. To be blunt, if the average age of an Episcopalian is 60+ then no wonder we lose about 2-3% each year at a steady rate! Many of our members are passing away.... They aren't all leaving by choice because of some policy change in the Church, or theology. We need to have a clearer reason why a person should stay and raise families in our tradition. Why is it important to be an Episcopalian today? If we only reason that Anglicanism is just one choice of many "spiritual" choices, then no wonder we don't keep your younger kin.

Thats my two cents after thinking about this for the past couple days.

Thoughts?

Eric

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Michael Strong

I understand the points relating to "in as much, as you did it . . . . ." but that is not the foundation of Christianity. +Cranmer understood inclusiveness under Christ as does +Rowan. Inclusiveness and unity is found in Jesus Christ, One Whom we worship and to Whom we are asked to be faithful in our own different ways. The test of our church is not how well we promote rights, but how people find metanoia, see that their lives have been changed through Jesus Christ. Once changed, then there are so many ministries, the harvest is huge but the laborers few. I am shamed at the way 'main line' diminishing churches, like ours, mock the growing numbers of evangelicals claiming 'we don't check our brains at the door'. Gamaliel understood this, the complexity of the Holy Spirit and where it lands and sets fires going. There is room for the political left and right to worship together, be faithful together and LEARN from each other. In our local parish, membership and pledges are in steady decline but there is no will to change as far as I can see.

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GrandmèreMimi

But on the other hand the people whom I could invite to church are over-committed, time-pressed and looking for something that renews them rather than depletes them.

Oh yes! If the church could find more and better ways of blessing the good that members of congregation are already doing in their everyday lives, while serving as a place of spiritual refreshment, that would be a lovely thing.

It's not only what the church does as a corporate body that counts.

June Butler

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BSnyder

Here's a fascinating recent article in Forbes magazine: "A Religion for Atheists."

This is what is actually happening out there: at least some people are realizing that secularism is incomplete - and that religion offers important psychological benefits that real human beings, living our real lives, have trouble doing without. Here's a quote that gets to the heart of the issue (I added the bolding):

"A third aspect of secular religion would be to offer us lessons in pessimism. The religion would try to counter the optimistic tenor of modern society and return us to the great pessimistic undercurrents found in traditional faiths. It would teach us to see the unthinking cruelty discreetly coiled within the magnanimous secular assurance that everyone can discover happiness through work and love. It isn’t that these two entities are invariably incapable of delivering fulfilment, only that they almost never do so. And when an exception is misrepresented as a rule, our individual misfortunes, instead of seeming to us quasi-inevitable aspects of life, will weigh down on us like particular curses. In denying the natural place reserved for longing and incompleteness in the human lot, our modern secular ideology denies us the possibility of collective consolation for our fractious marriages and our unexploited ambitions, condemning us instead to solitary feelings of shame and persecution. "

That is what at least some folks are feeling out there - and this whole notion is arising out of a deeply felt pain and alienation. (Personally, I'm not sure "pessimism" is the right word here - perhaps "realism" would work better? - but you get the point, I'm sure.)

And as luck would have it, our actual vocation is, in fact, to to preach the Gospel, the "Good News" of the Grace of God - and to offer something like "collective consolation" to those who suffer (i.e., everybody). Yes?

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