Coverage of the new arrangement being offered by Pope Benedict XVI to traditional Anglicans is making mention of the division within the Anglican Communion over ordination of women, ordination of openly gay clergy, the elevation of a noncelibate homosexual to the bishopric, and the blessing of same-sex unions. And when discussing those issues, it's impossible to ignore the fact that Episcopal Church has come close to schism over these issues. When discussing these issues, it's also worth noting the current state of the Episcopal Church in terms of its membership, attendance and giving numbers. A few weeks ago, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editor Frank Lockwood noted that The Episcopal Church had declined to release those statistics in September, even though they were supposed to come out in September. But today I noticed that Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal was discussing the numbers. And they're not so good:
Nationally, membership was down 2.6 percent to 2.2 million and attendance down 2.7 percent to 747,376.
Or as Lockwood puts it:
Membership -- Down. Attendance -- Down. Giving -- Down.
It reminded me of Laurie Goodstein's interview of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson (pictured) in the New York Times that caught our eyes a few months ago:
Q: What has been the fallout of all of this on your own diocese, in New Hampshire? Have you lost many church members?
A: Except for one parish in Rochester early on, no. That left about 15 people in that congregation, they met for about a year, and then asked me to close them down because there weren't enough people to sustain a continued parish. That's all. That's it. There's no one, no priests or parishes associated with the breakaway groups. Our diocese grew by 3 percent last year.
Q: Who are you pulling in?
A: We have received so many Roman Catholics and young families, particularly families who are saying, "We don't want to raise our daughters in a church that doesn't value young people in our church."
Tmatt commented on it at the time, somewhat presciently noting that Robinson's take on the Catholic Church might cause a few ripples but that ecumenical dialogues between the Episcopal Church and most U.S. Catholic leaders were already tense. But he noted that a sudden burst of growth of 3 percent would be highly unusual in the context of a liberal mainline church. Particularly since New Hampshire lost 1.6 percent of its members in the previous year (and over 18 percent in the last decade). Tmatt wondered if the bishop was referring to attendance rather than membership. Let's go to the numbers.
Nationally for 2008, membership in the Episcopal Church is down 2.8 percent from the previous year, membership is off 3.1 percent and giving is down .3 percent. Membership and attendance have been declining for years, decades even, but the decline in giving is new.
And Robinson's numbers for New Hampshire? It's a small diocese at 14,501 people total, but the membership numbers are . . . up 2.4 percent! However, the number of people actually attending Sunday services is down 1.1 percent and giving is down 2.6 percent.
So while the national numbers are bad across the board, Robinson did see an uncharacteristic upward blip in his diocese last year (after years of decline). I have absolutely no idea what this increase, particularly in the context of what's going on nationally and, er, internationally. But at the very least it shows that the Times interview did have some interesting news.