It is ironic how redefinition of marriage within the Episcopal Church corresponds with fewer marriages, just as proclamations of “inclusion” led to including fewer and fewer people in the life the of church.
Episcopalians, briefly in the limelight as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached at the 2018 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, aren’t marrying much of anybody these days. This according to an annual release of church statistics that reveal marriages in the denomination have declined by 66% since 2003 and baptisms are down by more than half.
In short, the old adage of clergy responsibility to preside over “hatch, match and dispatch” is no longer occurring.
Gradual decline of attendance and membership in the 1.6 million-member denomination is “no news” news, but (paired with the release of Presbyterian Church (USA) statistics in the spring) is one of two sure-fire blog entries that annually draws readers.
After posting my October 7 report, it took the denomination’s Episcopal News Service another nine days to offer coverage. I’ll note that the candid and well-sourced ENS report was published at exactly 5:30 p.m. on a Friday. Readers can draw their own conclusion.
Attendance and membership are two objective metrics that garner attention, but like an automobile speedometer, they only indicate how the denomination is moving at present. I’ve argued before that other metrics, especially marriages and baptisms, are more valuable in that they are leading indicators.
Marriage Isn’t What Brings Us Together Today
In 2003 the Episcopal Church conducted 19,017 marriages. That year is a demarcation point when a divorced and openly partnered gay man, Gene Robinson, was elected and consecrated as bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, exacerbating denominational strife that had been unfolding for decades. Large-scale departures began with the 2006 election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop.
Last year (2019) marriages conducted in the Episcopal Church were 6,484 (down 66%). A two-thirds decline in marriages. An 11 percent decline was reported in 2019 alone.
Reasons for this decline are manifold – marriage rates are down among the U.S. population (although not anywhere near that much). Those who do marry increasingly opt for ceremonies at secular venues like vineyards, beaches or botanical gardens – venues which don’t require ordained Episcopal clergy.