Monday, October 29, 2007

The Disappeared

Fascinating spinmeister article over at Episcopal Life trying to explain why Episcopal Church membership continues its decline (and in another article over here at Living Church we learn that the Episcopal Church has found itself with nearly two million dollar budget deficit as well - blamed on the beefing up of the 815 apparatus, no less!). But the part about the Diocese of Virginia is a whopper:

Measures are underway to reverse a portion of the largest decline in any of the Episcopal Church's nine Provinces reported in 2006 -- Province 3's 15,554-member drop owing primarily to the Diocese of Virginia's declaration of some 15 congregations "vacant" after a majority of members voted to affiliate with overseas dioceses. [Profiles of Vitality are available here.]

Yet continuing members of four of these congregations have remained, according to a report presented to Council, and are in the process of reconstituting their parishes -- which may result in future posting of at least some membership gains to offset 2006 losses.

15,554 reported members gone from Province 3 alone. Where did they go? Seems like it might be a good time for this song:

And catch the quote here that "continuing members of four of these congregations have remained ... and are in the process of reconstituting their parishes - which may result in future posting of at least some membership gains to offset 2006 losses." So four shadow congregations are tasked with making up the thousands and thousands of Episcopalians who are now "the disappeared?" And no reason given as to why those Episcopalians are now missing? I don't even have the words. Time to get out the worn copy of you know what.


RSchllnbrg said...

Let's look at the latest numbers now in for the ten years leading up through 2006. After printing out all the charts for churches in the Diocese of Virginia, and comparing their attendance figures (ASA) and membership numbers, we learn this:

30% of the churches say their ASA has increased since 2003

61% of the churches have seen decreased Sunday attendance since 2003

Only 13% of the churches in the diocese have increased membership and ASA since 2003

Of that 13% (21 churches, not counting churches under 80 people where fluctuations tend to be variable) more than a quarter of the churches actually saw their attendance drop in 2006.

Fully 55% of the churches in the diocese saw attendance drop in 2006, that's 87 of the 157 reporting.

This does not include losses from the 12 churches that left the Episcopal Church or the other new church plants that closed during the last few years ... those charts are no longer available from TEC, even though the Diocesan leadership refers to them in some form as continuing congregations.

And a funny thing too ... many churches that list lower Sunday average attendance show that they have actually had an increase in membership. Which means ... we have a lower percentage of people who are members who want to attend services on a regular basis than before.

You will have to draw your own conclusions. But it seems clear to me that since the decisions made by General Convention in 2003, our churches have been losing members and dropping in Sunday attendance. The same happened after the 2006 General Convention. I've seen the same effects at Church of the Spirit where I serve. Following the 2003 Convention we lost two Vestry members, the Parish Secretary (all of whom I had married) and a number of other folk ... along with over $50,000 a year in pledge income. We lost others again after the 2006 Convention.

Signs of vitality? Not in the church. But thanks be to God that the Spirit gives life even to the valley of dry bones ... so that we can see that God is actually God, and not something or someone else.

BabyBlue said...

Great analysis - and amen. Even the dry bones of TEC could be brought to life when we hear the voice of one crying in the desert, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." But the stats speak loudly - it's not the property, it's the people - where are they?


PS It's interesting in the article that TEC compares itself to the Presbyterians. All along the matra has been that TEC was Catholic Lite, all the stuff without the fuss. But when it comes to stats, comparing the growth of the Catholic Church (and they've certainly had some big time crises) with TEC must not have worked well in this context (nevermind those dreaded Baptists and all their kids!) - and not even the Lutherans who TEC is supposed to be in Communion with (perhaps it's the midwestern thingy), so the Episcopal leadership turns to say, well hey, at least we were on par with the uh, well, with the uh, er, the Presbyterians! Yeah, that's the ticket. Wonder what John Knox would make of that?

Kevin said...

BB -- John Knox was instrumental early on in the English Reformation but disliked many elements so defined the Church of Scotland off the CoE in many ways (trivia Knox was offered the see of Rochester). Technically the two theologically on the Protestant side have been quite close and the 39 Articles are very Calvinistic. Why Methodist begin to bog down around Article 14 to revolt on Article 17. This is why the catholic side did not want the 39 Articles in the America. Also the Westminster Confession of Faith was work on by both CoE & CoS, but the English never adopted it. So actually the comparison is very apt especially with the evangelical stream, maybe not the Tractarian stream but historically the statement is apt.

Kevin said...

Reply to text.

The PCUSA comparison is apt a second way. Both formerly important Protestant denominations that now about 1.5% of the total US population when they're added together. Oppose to RCC or SBC both of whom vastly outnumber, but non-doms also have a larger chuck of the pie, at 7M the Orthodox out number both. Also PCUSA like TEC has an evangelism problem, PCA is much more aggressive like AMiA (I'm not counting CANA until there is a track record to measure).

I also find it odd their blaming Region 3 for the down turn, if only counting membership then Truro and TFC only had ~1,500 to 2,000 who could vote, but they were huge compare to the other of the 15, I think All Saints was large a 500. So the 15K drop is not fully explained by their reasoning. I've never seen ADV touting anything close to 15K membership. So the loss is much greater than TEC is accounting, which is probably true, for every person who gos over to AMiA, CANA or ICON there are probably two or three who'll just leave (hopefully to another church home, but I fear they might just leave).

BabyBlue said...

Exactly, Kevin. That's why TEC picked PCUSA. Though I'm not so sure John Knox would like the comparrison. He was rather feisty, you know.


Kevin said...

John Knox would be most horrified at the liberalism -- in PCUSA.

Though traditional CoE, he'd probably prefer the comparison than to how it usually done (Methodism, based on service similarities) for he was mostly concern about doctrine. Wesley & Knox would not be two I'd put together other than both loved the Lord.

inked said...

BB, I'm not getting the song link, but I'm guessing it is a version of "Turn, Turn, Turn". It is very helpful to remember that if growth is defined as is acceleration, there is no lack of growth for a negative slope is just as 'growthy' as a positive slope.
Which accounts for all the references to a helathy and vibrant growth. Just ignore the direction.

BabyBlue said...

Midnight, our sons and daughters
Were cut down and taken from us
Hear their heartbeat
We hear their heartbeat

In the wind we hear their laughter
In the rain we see their tears
Hear their heartbeat
We hear their heartbeat

Night hangs like a prisoner
Stretched over black and blue
Hear their heartbeat
We hear their heartbeat

In the trees our sons stand naked
Through the walls our daughters cry
See their tears in the rainfall


The song is meant ironically, for I continue to stand amazed that the TEC infrastructure appears to care more about the property than the 15,000 people now disappeared. Their lament is over the property and not like a song like this. They don't even seem to miss us, but darn it, they want the children's crayons - not the children.

We have been sued and if we lose the lawsuits, we are all gone. Bishop Lee's dream of "as closest communion as possible" is lost. Isn't there a better way than to sue everyone? We're in exile, we'd come home in heartbeat but perhaps they really don't want us to come home. Perhaps there really isn't any home to come home to anymore - and that may be what I truly witnessed in New Orleans. I still haven't written about it, catastrophic experience though it was. And perhaps that is the point entirely, which I remember vividly - the House of Bishops jocular attitude over the Disappeared, where they took turns making fun of all the people they had lost. There was not one lament in sight, except perhaps for Bishop Lee who truly looked pained to me. I haven't forgotten that either.


inked said...

bb, this is the "community of bishops" pastoral response. You seem to be less than grateful. I believe the text you reference on another thread would strongly suggest that you should be re-educated to conform to the "community" standard. Clearly, the fault lies not in the HOB but in ourselves. We just need re-forming, we old Anglicans.

Kevin said...

Yet, I'll say what is desired was not given, speaking more collectively, there were favorites played, no sense of remorse when others past were gone, much games playing for self advancement, yet no one assisted for months when seeking evangelism the Lord made real easy but of the opposite of my gender yet those who denied help the parish holds up.

Then things can be cyclical and I or us or them sow, the Lord will repay.

Yes, Jacob was chosen but Leban was used by God to bring him from following Rebekah advise to the point where Hosea 12 expounds as weeping as he clings, seeking favor from the Angel of the Lord.

So too, I believe a valley allowed, that clergy and laity alike may ask hard questions to seek out "what is the kingdom of God like?" To begin to crave holiness and not spin their own game. Hebrews 12 reminds us of the purpose in this, not like a track coach (as was preach from the pulpit) but as a Father who truly loves His rebellion children.

Now as the hour approaches, there is One who knows more of the pain than you do. The same hand that touch the Jacobs hip in mercy, the same hand was pierced for us. He is trustworthy and can turn any valley of Achor into a door of hope.

Rick Arllen said...

It seems that denial is not just a river in Egypt.

PadreWayne said...

Stats can be used however one chooses: rschllnbrg's "Fully 55% of the churches in the diocese saw attendance drop in 2006, that's 87 of the 157 reporting" is my "Fully 45% of the churches in the cdiocese saw attendance rise in 2006, that's 70 of the 157 reporting."

Glass half empty, glass half full.

I praise Jesus that mine is overflowing.

RSchllnbrg said...

Congrats padrewayne.

I suppose stats can be "used". I was reporting what there is. I am glad you take comfort in knowing that 45% of the churches post gains in 2006.

On the other hand you sound a bit overly optimistic, kind of like the press release from 815 that said:

"Domestic dioceses posting similar gains for 2006 numbered 11: Alaska, Central Pennsylvania, Eastern Oregon, Eau Claire, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Upper South Carolina."

That's 11 dioceses of 110 that posted gains. We can rejoice with them, but to say this is to also realize that almost 90% of the dioceses of the church lost people.

Now that's "using" statistics. Or is spin only in the eye of the beholder?

Padre Wayne said...

rschllnbrg, it is not that you were using the stats erroneously, it's that they can be stated glass half empty/glass half full. Your use of them puts the spin toward doomsday, which, in the case of TEC, is certainly hubristic.

I won't deny that we've lost people. I'm just pointing out that in some areas we've gained.

And my glass continues to overflow.

RSchllnbrg said...

OK I'll play along.
But you're missing the point. Since when is 11 out of 110, considered half?

And what's so half full about the natinal church losing members again for another year?

I don't have to make up the doomsday stuff. It's a pretty bleak report all on its own. Still I'm glad things are happy in your world.