Dispute about the redefinition of marriage has roiled the Episcopal Church in the past two decades. At the same time, the invitation of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to preach this year at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex was a bright spot for the denomination: Curry’s homily was greeted with favorable coverage.
Despite the prominence of marriage in the church’s public conversation, statistics made available this month by the church’s Executive Office of the General Convention reveal that the number of marriages taking place in the denomination has collapsed nearly 60 percent in the past 15 years, and the addition of same-sex marriage has done nothing to halt the trend.
In short – with apologies to 1987 film “The Princess Bride” – marriage isn’t what brings us together, today.
Episcopalians have faced gradual and consistent decline in membership and attendance during the same time period (view coverage here). Membership has declined from 2,320,221 in 2002 to 1,712,563 in 2017 (-26%). Statistics including baptism, marriages, confirmations and receptions are indicative of not just where the denomination is today, but where it will be in 20 years’ time. With these latest numbers, the decline will continue and likely accelerate. An increased age of the average Episcopalian and the lack of children has resulted in the denomination figuratively eating the seed corn of its future.
In the past year alone, marriages conducted in the denomination dropped 8 percent, contributing to an overall decline of 43 percent in the past decade, and down 59 percent since 2002 – the year before the consecration of Gene Robinson as the church’s first openly partnered gay bishop.
Data from the Pew Research Center shows that, while U.S. marriage rates are down significantly since they peaked in 1960, the share of adults who are married has remained relatively stable in recent years, in contrast to the steep decline in Episcopal Church marriages.
Baptisms have also declined precipitously. Child baptisms dropped 55 percent from 44,995 to 20,069 since 2002, while adult baptisms dropped 53 percent from 6,299 to 2,927.
Other figures tracked year-over-year also sank since 2002. Confirmations of children are down 14,996 to 7,043 (-53%), while adult confirmations sank from 17,701 to 8,595 (-51%). For those already confirmed in another denomination and are received into the Episcopal Church, the number has dropped from 7,785 to 5,506 (-29%).
Marriage has been a central issue in the denomination, which officially redefined marriage as between any two persons in 2015. At the recent 2018 General Convention held July 5-13 in Austin, Texas, bishops and convention deputies voted to require dioceses to permit parishes within their diocesan boundaries to solemnize same-sex marriages.
Full Episcopal Church Tables of Statistics can be accessed via the links below: