As is well known, the Episcopal Church radically altered its theology and practice at its General Convention in 2003. As a result a significant amount of unrest has gone on in the TEC community which the leadership has tried to downplay or deny.
It is important to understand that those who are deeply opposed to the new theology fall into not one but four groups, each of which is engaged in different things.
(1) There are people who are voting with their feet, and departing from the Episcopal Church to Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Free Church Protestantism.
According to the Christian Century, “the Episcopal Church has suffered a net loss of nearly 115,000 members over the past three years “with homosexuality issues fueling the departures.” Kirk Hadaway, the denomination’s director of research, noted that “it is a precipitous drop in losing 36,000 in both 2003 and 2004, and now 42,000 in 2005.” The numbers for 2006 have not been released yet, but they are sure to show this trend continuing, and indeed probably increasing as the departure of large portions of whole parishes or indeed nearly all of some parishes begin to be reflected in the numbers.
Also, the level of struggle is well indicated by a recent national church publication in which we learn:
“The proportion [of parishes] with excellent or good financial health declined from 56% to 32% between 2000 and 2005.”
And: “The proportion in some or serious financial difficulty almost doubled, increasing from 13% in 2000 to 25% in 2005.”
(2) There are whole parishes or portions of parishes which through different means have sought to leave the Episcopal Church but to keep their ties to the Anglican Communion through a relationship with another Anglican Province. At present, these groups are in a state of flux and in seemingly nearly constant motion but it is possible to delineate some sense of their numbers:
Anglican Mission in America (Rwanda), some 100-115 parishes
CANA (Nigeria), some 60 parishes
Uganda, some about 30 parishes
Kenya, some 20-30 parishes
Southern Cone, some at least 50 parishes
Now, not all of these parishes consists of former members of TEC as some are church plants, but many of them contain sections of former TEC folks and in a number of cases nearly the whole parish came over from TEC (Christ Church, Plano, Texas, being a recent example, in that case of a church who joined AMIA/Rwanda)
(3) There are parishes or sections of parishes who are on the verge of deciding along the lines of group 2 in some way by the end of 2007/early 2008, depending on the outcome of the Tanzania Communique, the House of Bishops meeting, and the response of the Anglican leadership thereto. Saint Clements, El Paso, one of the largest parishes in the diocese of the Rio Grande, just voted by an overwhelming margin to leave TEC on Sunday, September 16th. It needs to be emphasized that many of these people and parishes do not wish to depart, but feel if the Anglican Communion leadership continues to fail to provide a safe place for them, they have no other choice.
It must also be noted that three dioceses Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, and San Joaquin, appear to be considering moves in this direction. I am not aware of any time in the history of the Episcopal Church when three dioceses as whole dioceses sought to consider these kinds of momentous decisions. (It will of course be noted that the dioceses are not monolithic-no diocese is-and there are smaller groups within the diocese that feel differently. Nonetheless the contemplated collective diocesan action is significant).
(4) There is a considerable group of other individuals, parishes and dioceses who are completely opposed to the new theology and practice of TEC’s leadership, but who wish to find a way to stay connected to the Anglican Communion as they continue to stand in radical opposition, and are not sure what the way forward is. Two examples would be the diocese of South Carolina, and the parish of Saint Martin’s Houston, which claims the largest membership in the country and which made clear in its last call process that their new rector would need to stand solidly for the theology of the Anglican Communion and the Windsor Report.
The national leadership’s way of treating this problem is to give the most narrow definition as possible to group two, and then to try to minimize the problem.
Unfortunately, for example we see things like this:
Note on Dioceses, Congregations and Church Structure
Â· Dioceses and congregations remain part of the Episcopal Church even when local leaders and/or a number of parishioners opt to leave the denomination as a matter of personal choice.
Â· Dioceses are created by the General Convention and cannot be dissolved without action of the General Convention in accordance with the provisions of the churchwide constitution and canons. Congregations, likewise, are created by a local diocese and continue within that structure unless otherwise decided by the local bishop in consultation with other elected diocesan leaders.
Â· According to a September 2007 update from director of research Kirk Hadaway, out of some 7600 total Episcopal Church congregations, located inside and outside the U.S., since 2003:
32 have LEFT–and by that we mean the majority of the congregation expressed a desire or voted to withdraw from The Episcopal Church, the bishop declared the congregation abandoned and notified the national office, where the church is now listed as non-filing/closed.
23 have VOTED TO LEAVE–meaning a significant number, usually including the clergy, have expressed a desire to withdraw from The Episcopal Church.
(And one immediately notes in passing that the national church office managed to get THESE numbers updated and out before the House of Bishops meeting, but that they still do not have the numbers out from 2006 in terms of overall membership numbers. Hmmmmm. I wonder why.)
Or this, which ran in April 2007 with the headline “Episcopal Bishop says few leaving over same-sex issues”:
The Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop on Wednesday downplayed the notion of a denominational schism over homosexuality, saying only a tiny fraction of congregations have moved to break away.
In an interview, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said the congregations had “gotten a lot of attention and been very noisy,” but accounted for less than 1 percent of the country’s total number of parishes, which she put at 7,500.
“The Episcopal Church is alive and well,” she said. Jefferts Schori was in Virginia Beach on Wednesday to speak at the Episcopal Communicators annual meeting at The Cavalier Hotel.
You can see what is going on, they are playing games with numbers and categories. “Few” leaving actually means “congregations,” and congregations means congregations defined as a whole. This is collapsing all four categories into a very narrow and misleading picture of group number 2.
People know that in reality it is very difficult to get whole parishes or dioceses to take significant decisions about ANYTHING, much less something as important as this. Given the degree of opposition and hostility faced in numerous quarters from diocesan and national leadership, and given how many Anglican reasserters (such as your blog convenor) have been advocating a stay and be opposed but be faithful stance, it is actually surprising that the numbers from the four categories are this large.
The key point is, taken together the four groups illustrate a VERY SERIOUS problem. Good leadership owns the actual situation and then tries to deal with it, it does not try to redefine it narrowly and pretend it is less than it is–KSH.
Update: the above article was written before and independently of this one by Simon Sarmiento but the information seems to be of a similar type.