Episcopal Church will cease to have Sunday worship attendance in 30 years, seminary pres. warns

Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Memphis is one of the oldest churches in Tennessee.
Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Memphis is one of the oldest churches in Tennessee. | Dennis Lennox

A seminary president has warned The Episcopal Church's leadership that with the current rate of decline, they will cease to have any Sunday worship attendance in 30 years.

Kristine Stache, interim president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America-affiliated Wartburg Theological Seminary, gave a presentation Friday before the denomination's Executive Council.

Stache drew from the most recent parochial report data which found that, from 2008 to 2018, the denomination experienced a 24.9 percent decline in average Sunday attendance and a 17.5 percent decline in baptized members.

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“It depicts a church that appears to be dying,” said Stache, as reported by Egan Millard of Episcopal News Service, labeling the statistics “very sobering.”

At the current rate of decline, according to Stache, the denomination will have no Sunday attendance in 30 years and no baptized members in 47 years.

Despite the somber report on statistics, Stache also said that the decline might be less showing a dying church and more one that is becoming “something we have yet to imagine.”

“This kind of thinking looks nothing like we’ve ever done before. We don’t have the current knowledge or solutions to address this work,” she said.

“In fact, we can’t even define the problem. But that’s the point. Living in this space is about a mental shift to a focus on questions instead of answers.”

As with most religious groups in the United States, the Episcopal Church has experienced a considerable decline in membership over the past several years.

Last year, the Episcopal Church’s Office of the General Convention reported that in 2018, membership in the denomination had dropped to 1.676 million.

The 2018 total was less than half of the peak membership numbers for the denomination in 1966, when approximately 3.6 million Americans identified as Episcopalian.

One factor in the decline has been the increasingly progressive theological direction of the mainline denomination, especially regarding LGBT issues.

For example, the 2003 consecration of the Rev. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the denomination’s history prompted many conservative congregations to leave in protest.

Stache’s presentation before the Executive Council resembles a presentation the Rev. Canon Neil Elliot gave to the leadership of The Anglican Church of Canada last November.

Presented before the ACC Council of General Synod, Elliot concluded that the Canadian denomination would effectively cease to exist by the year 2040.

ACC Archbishop Linda Nicholls said in a statement last year that Elliot's report was a “wake-up call” for the denomination.

“We’re called to do and be God’s people in a particular place, for the purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, and the only question is, ‘How do we need to share it, so that it might be heard by those around us?’” Nicholls said. 

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