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.