Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dean of VTS: Talk of Episcopal Church Decline "Is All Untrue"

Back on February 1, 2013 at the annual diocesan convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware, the Very Rev. Ian Markham (dean of Virginia Theological Seminary) delivered an address entitled, "The Myth of the Decline of the Episcopal Church."  Here's how he kicked it off:

I'm sure you've all sat and read endless stories - endless stories - over and over again, about the fact that we're part of the mainline and the mainline is getting smaller.  How many people have heard those stories, can you please put your hands up?  That's it, absolutely everybody.  Well I'm here to tell you tonight that it's all untrue. 

Watch it all:

You can also watch Part Two of Dean Markham's address.

Significantly, Dean Markham's claim that the talk about decline in the Episcopal Church "is all untrue" flies in the face of the Episcopal Church's own statistics.  Check out, for instance, the Episcopal Domestic Fast Facts Trends: 2007-2011.  

There's also the sobering data included in the report from the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church submitted to General Convention in 2009.  

And then there's the data from Dr. C. Kirk Hadaway and Dr. Matthew J. Price's January 27, 2012 briefing to the Executive Council.  Here is one particularly revealing part of that report (italics and bold print added):

To get a broad-based sense of congregational vitality, we have used a number of measurements including church school enrollment, marriages, funerals, child baptisms, adult baptisms, and confirmations. These speak to a parish's integration in the community and the possibility for future growth:

Change in church school enrollment: -33%
Change in number of marriages performed: -41%
Change in number of burials/funerals: -21%
Change in the number of child baptisms: -36%
Change in the number of adult baptisms: -40%
Change in the number of confirmations: -32%

While these numbers may not capture the totality of what is happening in the Church, we do not have a measure that is moving in a positive direction.

Fortunately, the Dean of VTS is there to reassure us that this is all untrue.  And while he's at it, he charges those who talk about Episcopal Church decline with peddling "a narrative of despair" because they "have a real problem with our tradition."

What is the deal with leadership in the Episcopal Church that they flat out deny - and in some cases with casually dismissive humor - the data repeatedly reported by the very Church they serve?!


Dave Halt said...

I particularly enjoyed the concept that ASA is not a good marker of health as people take turns going to church, and you never have all your people there at one time, which means we have a lot more people than we think.

So, mediocre discipleship and lack of commitment to attending church in lieu of soccer matches and other events is something to celebrate! I can't wait to tell my congregation this. I am certain they will be thrilled to know they will still be counted and their lack of commitment means we are not shrinking!

Welcome to the new improved reverse discipleship program. Grow, or maintain, your church by attending one Sunday a month! I hear a new verse to the hymn, "not seven whole days, but one hour of one day in thirty I will praise Thee."

Let's not even talk about the fact that our congregations are aging to such an extent that we have a significant number of "Home Communions" to add to our ASA. Not that these are unimportant, but that it is directly pointed as a sign of health.

C. Wingate said...

I don't know that I can bring myself to watch all of this, as it's likely to set off my stomping around the room muttering, or if my daughter watches it, her ranting on at length about it. (Teenagers.)

That said, I suppose I could entertain his ideas if there were some evidence of the church shucking off people who were indifferent, and being left with a core of dedicated believers. But I see the exact opposite happening. A large percentage of the people leaving are doing so precisely because they care greatly, as witnessed to by the departure of five dioceses thus far. I continue to find church websites that give the message that anyone of strongly orthodox theological convictions will be uncomfortable at that parish. I keep running into clerics who are passionate about politics (and especially sexual politics) and indifferent about religion. I don't see how anyone can look at us and not see decline, and to hear this kind of nonsense from someone in his position simply reinforces how deeply the rot runs.

C. Wingate said...

It also should be pointed out that the very diocese in which this address was delivered was forced to close its cathedral in the summer of 2012.

Matthew said...

Kevin Bacon said it best:

TJ McMahon said...

This may explain why whatever small contributions I can make to seminaries go to Nashotah. Where at least they can count. And have some respect for us old folks who were baptized Episcopalians before there was "our baptismal covenant!!" (you notice how all the new fangled theology has at least 2 !!s?)

I think we should all thank God that He made Dean Markham the dean of a declining seminary in the 15th largest Protestant denomination in the US. Think of the damage he could do as an economics professor, or 3rd grade math teacher.

Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Should it surprise us that the very people who can "interpret" the New Testament to say that same-gender sex is blessed by God can also interpret huge numerical decreases as "not a decline." Intellectual honesty seems a virtue in decline these days.

In my own United Methodist Church I suppose we are doing a little better because "the decline" and the coming "death tsunami" (when our mostly older membership starts graduating to heaven) is almost all anyone (even bishops) is talking about. I suppose that is better.

Hudson Barton said...

Yes, but Markam is right in this sense, that much of the chortling is coming from the new slightly more Anglican Anglicans. It reminds me of a ship sinking by the stern in which the rats at the bow scream at the top of their lungs that the rats at the stern are faring poorly because of their bad choices.

bob said...

I notice the comments are disabled at youtube. No surprise, the comments at ENS are pretty tightly controlled too. Can't have opinions expressed too freely, this is a *liberal* organization, after all. Thank goodness one doesn't have to spend $100,000 to attend his school. Truth is available for much less, and not at all at his price.

bob said...

Be sure to watch part two. He is grasping, really grasping. He says they are *under* reporting attendance. After all, all the ECUSA related schools have *required* attendance for at least one service a week and all those kids aren't counted! Wow, like all liberals he abhor C.S. Lewis, so never would have read his disgust with compulsory chapel attendance in Oxford chapel services before WW II. After they were made voluntary attendance plummeted. The dean is decades out of touch when he *celebrates* required attendance to puff numbers, but what has he got?? He also mentions retirement homes that have services. Does anyone have to tell him what goes on in retirement homes? It would seem the answer is "yes". How much do they pay such ignorant people?

Abu Daoud said...

They should be most concerned about the decline in marriages. Young couples married in the church are the ones most likely to stay in the church and have kids who will grow up to be (maybe) a new generation of Episcopalians.

Whit Johnstone said...

Markham's denial is profoundly unhelpful. We are in decline, and we are in decline because of deeply rooted structural issues, not because of the schisms over human sexuality.

We lost around 500,000 people over the last decade, ACNA is less then 100,000 members. Mostly, the problem is that our young adults are not staying in the church (by and large they are leaving Christianity altogether) and our old folks are dieng off. That is what we need to fix. We can't keep our old people from passing away, and we can't in the short term change the fact that we have more than our fair share of old people. But we can work on making sure young adults don't leave the Episcopal church when they leave home for college or careers. I'm open to suggestions about how.

That said, we are by far the largest Anglican church in the United States of America. If you discount "growth"through people and congregations leaving The Episcopal Church we are healthier then ACNA. We have an average Sunday attendance per parish of 97, while ACNA has an ASA per parish of 88. We baptize 4.8 people per parish, while the ACNA baptizes only 3.6. hThis is good only in relative terms by the way- for a parish to support a full-time priest without drawing on outside resources it needs an ASA of roughly 200, and we (and ACNA)need to baptize 10 people per parish per year to replace people who leave the area or pass on. My point is that ACNA should not be crowing over TEC's decline- they will face the same issues shortly.

bob said...

Abu, I wonder if all dioceses have clergy directories like Olympia does? Around 10 years ago I happened to see the listing of clergy. The headings are for the name of the clergy - person, and where once it said "wife" in days of yore, now it says "spouse/partner". Ah, interesting. It assumes very clearly that clerics are shacked up, as are laity. Forget same sex marriage for now, the old fashioned marriage is not presumed for anyone. Please note, the wife of the clergyman who was married to him 50 years was instantly rendered his...Concubine. His mistress. His chick. Don't let anyone tell you real marriage doesn't suffer from other mis-branded relationships. Real marriage is eliminated, polluted, and notice: not allowed to be itself. That *wife* of a clergyman was not asked if she wanted that indistinct distinction. It was imposed on her.
Now worry about decline in marriages. It goes hand in hand with loss of Christian teaching about everything else. The Diocese of Olympia clergy manual has a direction from the bishop reminding them that reciting the Creed on Sunday is not optional. Once you understand why that needs to be put in writing (!!) you'll understand a lot about marriage and declining numbers. Full disclosure, I'm a layman in the Orthodox Church. I left ECUSA in 1982.

C. Wingate said...

Bob, do I have to watch it? I could barely get into the first part, with its overtone of "if I speak in a vaguely Oxbridge accent, it means that anyone who disagrees with me is beneath contempt."

Look, I went to one of those schools. That compulsory chapel attendance was vital to my spiritual formation. But statistically (a) the only people who could possibly be counted as members of the school-as-parish would be a few faculty and the handful of people such as myself who were confirmed in the church there and therefore started out as the school being the parish-of-record, and (b) I cannot imagine that the ASA of Episcopal boarding schools has risen significantly in thirty years, if indeed it was ever a significant fraction of total ASA to begin with. IF GC dictated adding that into ASA, I am sure that Kirk Hadaway would find a way to put a big asterisk next to it, the same way he explains some of the other odd quirks in the numbers.

Whit, I don't think we have a good handle on the causes of the losses. That we are not retaining young adults is a trope that is popular, but an older analysis of mine suggested that departures among the middle-aged are perhaps more important, and that was before the ACNA departures. The thing is, I think, that getting the kids back can be (it is felt) be dealt with through the sort of pandering that our boomer-born hierarchy is comfortable with (that is, getting soft on theology and folksy on liturgy) rather than deal with the harder issue that the stridency over sexuality and the increasing creedal issues are driving away more mature people who are, not incidentally, also the ones who are the source of most of the money and church leadership.

Stan Theman said...

The truth of a proposition is not a function of its origin.
"When a wise man points at the moon, an idiot looks at his finger."
Pretty sad, but denial is not just a river near the pyramids.