Liturgical dancers move around the baptismal font while bishops enter during the 2006 investiture service of Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at Washington National Cathedral. The denomination has posted significant declines in baptisms since the early 2000s. (Photo: Episcopal News Service)

December 19, 2014

Episcopal Church Baptisms Dry Up

Last week the Task Force on Re-imagining the Episcopal Church released a report ahead of next year’s General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City. The 73-page report proposes significant structural changes and — in some places — glimmers of candor can be seen, such as acknowledgement that “…many of our parishes are no longer financially self-sufficient and cannot afford full-time stipended clergy.”

As Episcopal Church officials struggle with how to re-organize an unwieldy bureaucracy and legislative body formed for a much larger church, more bad news is dripping out.

The denomination’s Office of Research has compiled the self-reported statistical tables for provinces and dioceses for the last reporting year (2013). In October IRD reported on overall declines in attendance and membership in the Episcopal Church, but the updated statistical tables provide much more detailed information on baptisms, marriages, confirmations and parish closures. (2012 statistical tables can be found here as a basis of comparison)

The report reveals that in U.S. dioceses, baptisms are down five percent from 27,140 in 2012 to 25,822 in 2013. Similarly, marriages are down four percent from 10,366 to 9,933 (the denomination has seen a 40 percent decline in children baptized since 2003 and a 46 percent decline in marriages over the same period). The losses are not evenly distributed, with some dioceses performing worse than others: in the Diocese of Northern Michigan, where an ordained Buddhist was elected (and later failed to gain consent from other dioceses) to be bishop in 2009, zero children were confirmed in 2013.

Episcopal “renewing” dioceses in San Joaquin and Fort Worth are also continuing to struggle: Fort Worth closed five parishes in 2013 (from 22 to 17), with San Joaquin closing two (21 to 19). Pittsburgh added one new parish (36 to 37). Other diocese closing parishes include Maryland (4) and Massachusetts (3), with most of the dioceses in Northeastern Province 1 seeing the closure of at least one parish.

Despite continuing to claim over 70 parishes and 28,000 members following the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina (DioSC) and the vast majority of its parishes ending their affiliation with the Episcopal Church, the renewing Episcopal Church in South Carolina (ECSC) has posted updated information on baptisms and weddings, showing a drop from 388 children’s baptisms in 2012 to only 135 in 2013. South Carolina reported 170 children and 143 adults confirmed in 2012, dropping to 54 children and 37 adults in 2013.

A new “fast facts” summary sheet reveals that over 45 percent of Episcopal parishes have either no priest (12.3 percent) or only a part time or unpaid priest (33.2 percent). Just over a third of Episcopal parishes have one full-time priest (34.9 percent) while less than 20 percent have multiple priests (19.7 percent). Median Average Sunday Worship Attendance has dropped from 64 persons in 2012 to 61 persons in 2013.

Forty percent of parishes have reported membership declines of 10 percent or greater during the past 10 years, while 52 percent report a decline of 10 percent or greater in attendance over the same period.

Episcopalians do have one possible bright spot from last year to report: the average pledge rose from $2,491 to $2,553, and total “plate and pledge” income rose from $1,303,458,185 to $1,313,395,473, an increase of 0.8 percent. Unfortunately, this failed to keep pace with the 1.5 percent inflation rate between 2012 and 2013.

The total investments held by Episcopal congregations also rose from $3,920,736,285 to $4,317,158,557 in 2013, reflecting improvements in financial markets.


  • anglican 56

    Either the church has lost it rich congregants or they’re skimping because the pledge averages equate to about $25,000 in annual salary, a figure far lower than the average American wage.

    • Mark Byron

      That assumes a tithe, ’56. Since they take their Bible a-la-carte, the stuff on tithing might well be ignored along with the un-PC stuff.

      • ChristopherGareth

        Speaking as an Episcopalian I can assure you that some of us give 10% of our income — but not to the parishes, since regrettably, a portion of that money goes to the diocese and from there to the national church. I’m heartened by the pathetic pledge rates — because there are a whole lot of us in ECUSA who simply aren’t giving to it. My additional hope is that those conservatives who have established wills and trusts giving to ECUSA will modify those as well. There’s no reason to support the false gospel that our current national church leaders are promoting with money. None at all.

        • Ray Bannister

          Well put.

        • Mark Byron

          That’s likely true, sir. There are a lot of faithful folks in the ECUSA and other mainline denominations; my parents and my sister’s in-laws are faithful Methodists. If I recall, the average donation rate is about 2.5% for churches as a whole, so tithing is the exception rather than the norm in most places.

  • anglican 56

    Either the church has lost it rich congregants or they’re skimping because the pledge averages equate to about $25,000 in annual salary, a figure far lower than the average American wage.

  • fredx2

    I guess having girls promenade around waiving flags did not increase attendance, huh?

    • Greg Paley

      Unfortunately, the liberals AND the evangelicals are often guilty of trying to attract people with a “show,” but that strategy doesn’t seem to be working out for the liberals, judging by their numbers. I spent several years attending a megachurch, found a lot of good in it but eventually decided that the “show” factor was becoming more important than sound biblical preaching, plus it seemed to be attracting a lot of “show people” (let the reader understand) whose lifestyles are not in keeping with Christianity.

  • Greg

    The fourth definition of “entropy” on Dictionary.com simply says, “see Episcopal Church.”

  • Namyriah

    Back in the 1920s, liberal pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick published a widely read tract titled “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”

    Here we are almost a century later, and the answer to Fosdick’s question is:
    YES!!!

    Fosdick pastored to the wealthy snobs at New York’s posh Riverside Church, people too educated and sophisticated to believe in things like miracles or a Bible that actually meant what it said. Fosdick and his parishioners lived in such a social bubble that that they foolishly believed that their congregation was the church of the future – a social club that sponsored concerts and dramatic productions and discussion groups about “spiritual matters.” with a well-educated pastor who assures them that the Bible need not be taken literally – or even seriously. Riverside did indeed provide the template for what the mainline denominations are today, though we have to wonder if even uber-liberal Fosdick might have winced at the open promotion of sodomy. The again, maybe he would – since he did not see the church as a place where sinners would be led to turn from their sins.

    Simply put, a social club with a little sprinkling of “spirituality” just doesn’t have much appeal to Americans any more – too many other distractions, the internet, the health club, a thousand cable channels, ample opportunities for porn and cybersex and no-strings hookup. On the other hand, a church where the old words like salvation, heaven, hell, Savior, and God still have meaning – that kind of church has a future, just as it did in AD 30. There were and always will be people who want to “get right with God” and in doing that find peace with themselves and with their neighbors. The mainline churches have nothing that people can’t get elsewhere. Plenty of people choose to be “spiritual” without ever darkening a church door, and can get more of a righteousness buzz by joining a political protest or an Earth Day gathering.

    Godless churches die. Good riddance.

  • Sandra K Jenner

    I don’t think the article provided a link to the entire report. Here it is:
    http://reimaginetec.org/TREC_Report.pdf

  • DirtyHarry1

    Good riddance to the apostates in the Episcopal Church. In a generation they will be gone – died out. The only thing left will be beautiful old churches, many empty or finding use by a bible preaching, bible teaching conservative/traditional church.

  • Aliquantillus

    Good! The quicker they disappear the better it is.

  • Kimo

    TEC’s figures are simply catching up with what many of us former Episcopalians have known for years: Christians left TEC for other denominations which have stayed true to the Gospel and the authority of scripture.

    • Brad F

      You bet. People do tend to leave churches when they don’t find God there.

  • Veritatus

    Didn’t Christ say that the Lukewarm would be “Spat out”? I think there’s your answer to the state of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. Any Church that would even consider electing a Buddhist to be a “Christian” bishop has obviously failed at remaining a Christian Church. The Episcopal Church now is little more than a social club for aging hippies and aging homosexuals. Christ is not even secondary, he’s just window dressing. They ought to just merge with the Unitarians and become a country club.

  • Jennifer Prestash

    Maybe the Episcopal Church should re-image itself on Jesus Christ? It’s decades since Episcopals actually believed in Him. And maybe look to the Holy Scriptures for your morality instead of modern liberalism?

    • Richard L Chauvin Jr.

      I don’t know where you live, but that statement does not fit the Episcopal Churches in Louisiana, where I live. They live and breathe the Bible and are certainly not liberal.

      • Jennifer Prestash

        I’m glad to hear that, but the Episcopal Church rejects biblical morality on numerous issues, from the murder of children in the womb, to the redefinition of marriage, to basic teachings about God (some Episcopal bishop deny the Resurrection and even the Trinity). How is it that the Episcopal Church allows any, all and even no theology? How can you lie and breathe the Bible and consider such things OK?

        • Richard L Chauvin Jr.

          I am afraid you are describing a regional issue in certain areas where modern culture has infiltrated the Church. As with other denominations, the Church has divisions that are well-known. In the deep South, the Church tends to be aligned with the Anglican traditions.

  • Guest

    Wow. Lots of haters out there. Painful to ready your comments. I hurt for you.

    • Brad F

      Posting something twice still doesn’t make it true.

      • Sam Buice

        If I did that twice, it was an accident. Forgive me.

    • yolo

      The truth hurts sometimes.

      • yolo

        That doesn’t make it wrong.

  • Sam Buice

    Lots of haters out there. Your comments are painful to read. I hurt for you.

    • Brad F

      No kidding? I guess you mean “haters” as in “anyone who disagrees with liberals.” Leftists are such narrow thinkers, they don’t grasp that “disagreement” and “hate” are not the same thing.

      Since you have tagged the other commenters as “haters,” could you kindly cite some examples of “hate.” Does expressing opinions constitute “hate” in your progressive view?

      Take your time.

      • Sam Buice

        Did you read the one that said “Good riddance?” Many of the comments made on this page are just hateful. The fact that you- and perhaps others do not even recognize that is truly sad. It is why we are where we are as a church and even as a country. Also, you have assumed I am a liberal. You don’t even know me. You have projected your own darkness on to me and judged it.

        • Julene Devoe

          I think you misread the “Good riddance” post. No one hates Episcopalians. The New Testament makes it clear that Christians always need to be on our guard against false teachings and against conforming to the secular world. If we are not being “salt” and “light” to the world, we are failing in our mission as Christians. Not only that, but the liberal churches have been declining in numbers for many years, so the secularizing of churches not only displeases God but is a failing strategy for filling up the pews. There is nothing un-Christian about saying “good riddance” to churches that have de-Christianized themselves already.

          • Sam Buice

            I do not think I misread anything. One of the things that has confused me about this whole- some people leaving- is they think they can say whatever they want… and then by saying it is not hateful or judgmental, make that so. “Good riddance” is only one of the responses I could have chosen. Furthermore, for you to say that anyone has “de-christianized themselves” is also a judgment you have not been called to make. That is arrogance on your part. Judge ye not.

          • Tiger

            LOL
            That cuts both ways.
            “Judge ye not.”
            When you call people “haters,” you’re judging them.
            And lying about them.

          • Sam Buice

            Don’t think I am lying… but you got me on judging. Glad you can see it in me at least!

        • ChristopherGareth

          Well half the people on this page aren’t members of our church — so it’s rather hard to blame them on “why we are where we are as a church.” No, the reason why we are where we are as the Episcopal church — with declining attendance and membership and closing parishes and closing camp and conference centers and selling off of diocesan assets — is because people are voting on our current leadership’s values and faith with their feet.

          We are in big-time trouble.

      • Sam Buice

        And I have not even had my first cup of coffee. YOU take your time and find the hate in the responses. It will be a healthier exercise for you than it would be for me.

    • Tom Morris

      This attitude (labeling those who dissent from the progressive agenda of the EC as “haters”) is one of the main reasons so many are leaving! The Episcopal Church speaks of tolerance and inclusiveness, but that all goes out the window when it involves people who believe the Bible and want to follow the teachings that have guided the church for millennia. There is little or no tolerance for orthodoxy in the Episcopal Church. In most dioceses, a priest would get in more trouble from espousing the plain teaching of Romans Ch. 1 than if he or she taught from the Koran.

      • Sam Buice

        I withdraw my description of the writers as “haters.” I will rephrase. There is a lot of hatred expressed in many of the comments. I find them hurtful.

        • Virginia

          Life must be extremely painful for you.

          • Sam Buice

            Sometime.. yes. I am a priest in the church. I love God and have a deep and personal relationship with God, through Christ. I live a Spirit-filled life and honestly have not met very many people I cannot love- with the help of God’s Spirit. On the other hand, I have been called heretic, non-Christian, and told that there is no place for me in God’s “true” church. I have found some of my fellow Christians to be incredibly mean-spirited and even dishonest. That is painful… but I get over it. That’s how I roll!

          • Arcas Rover

            Your smug condescension is not “rolling,” it is self-flattering sanctimony. God help your parishioners.

          • Sam Buice

            And we
            Met where?

          • Arcas Rover

            Your smug condescension is not “rolling,” it is self-flattering sanctimony. God help your parishioners.

  • Linda

    The best-known Episcopal author still living is Bishop John Spong, who is ultra-liberal. While he was bishop of Newark, his diocese lost almost half its members.

  • Timothy Fountain

    I’ve been an Episcopal priest for over 25 years. Baptisms are down as members age (no kids); grown kids who are starting families leave for other churches or no church at all (these small 60 ASA “families” are nice, but there’s no reason to go find a strange one when you move to a new city and start a career or family, or if you only went to church as a social obligation in the first place); plenty of folks have departed for theological reasons (traditional/orthodox folks, obviously, but I think there’s an untold story out there about progressives who came, got the agenda they wanted through a parish, diocese or General Convention, and then left to work their agenda on some other church); anyway, there are a variety of factors coming back to the fact that we are reticent about proclaiming the Gospel and are stuck in an old model in which we got our piece of the American Christian pie just because our doors were open. We have a history of producing clubs instead of churches. Our baptisms have been for families that already belong rather than an expression of the spread of the Gospel – in many cases a “membership recognition” rather than a sacrament.

  • Sam Buice

    I believe we are being pruned. It is overdue and only good will come of it. It is Advent… wait and see.

  • crusader2010

    I went to the episcopal church for many years and was active till the church took a left turn, now I found something else to do on sunday morning rather than to listen to a liberal, feminized, sudo-christian preacher. and my money goes to local charities