A larger issue facing the new bishop is an existential one — a dwindling membership. The Episcopal Church peaked nationally in the late 1960s but, like other mainline denominations, has been on a 50-year slide. The largest demographic in the church today are those older than 65.
That’s been reflected in Indiana, where there were more than 25,000 Episcopalians in 1980, according to the Association of Religious Data Archives. Today, there are fewer than 15,000. The Diocese of Indianapolis now has more than 9,300 members. It’s a byproduct of an evolving spirituality that is increasingly untethered to the institutional church.
Baskerville-Burrows recognizes that. She notes that many church buildings are situated in locales where the overall population has declined. Still, after her early visits around the diocese, she reports finding vibrancy, and that the church’s message of hope and inclusion is changing lives, which she sees as the best metric. Above all, she says the church is well-equipped to meet a yearning in today’s culture — for belonging.
“We are in a fragmented culture that seems to have no end to fragmentation. It’s easier now to be isolated than it has ever been. Our scriptures tell us … that we are meant for community and for belonging, and so I hear that yearning. That’s why I am hopeful about the future of the church.”