Episcopalians Continue Bleeding Members, Attendance at Alarming Rate

While the Episcopal Church has established a continued pattern of steady decline since the early 2000s, the unbroken trend is relatively recent

“We have lived for too long like that shamed and bleeding woman. She’s had to endure finger-waggers blaming her for her own illness. Anger and anxiety over membership loss in this church has frequently prompted finger-waggers to use that image of unstoppable hemorrhage – and it’s been going on for almost exactly 12 years, since we began to tell the truth about who we were and are and are meant to be.  We have consulted plenty of ecclesiastical doctors, without much relief – until we began to find the temerity to reach out and touch Jesus’ robe.”

 

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is leaving office this month after a tumultuous nine years in office that saw significant conflict and numerical decline in the oldline church.

Statistics released this week by the denomination’s Office of Diocesan and Congregational Ministries indicate that Jefferts Schori is leaving her successor, Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry, with decline that is steepening rather than tapering off.

The church’s domestic U.S. membership dropped 2.7 percent from a reported 1,866,758 members in 2013 to 1,817,004 in 2014, a loss of 49,794 persons. Attendance took an even steeper hit, with the average number of Sunday worshipers dropping from 623,691 in 2013 to 600,411 in 2014, a decline of 23,280 persons in the pews, down 3.7 percent.

The numbers are significantly worse than 2013, when the church reported a 1.4 percent decline in membership and 2.6 percent decline in average Sunday attendance. One contributing factor is figures from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC), the local Episcopal Church jurisdiction formed after the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina departed the denomination in the autumn of 2012. Updated figures from TECSC show that the body has 6,387 active baptized members and an average Sunday attendance of 2,812 persons. This is down 77 percent from the 28,195 members and 12,005 attendance average previously reported. The Diocese of South Carolina is one of five dioceses to depart the denomination since Jefferts Schori’s election, along with hundreds of individual congregations. The Diocese of South Carolina has accepted an offer of oversight from the worldwide Anglican Communion’s Global South and now functions independently from the U.S.-based Episcopal Church.

Other measures of Episcopal Church vitality also saw decline: the denomination reported the shuttering of 69 parishes and missions, down from 6,622 in 2013 to 6,553 in 2014.

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