Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What will the Episcopal Church look like in 2030?

I was having a conversation today with a friend in which I recalled that, some time ago, I had predicted that the Anglican Church of Canada would be out of business by 2030 and the Episcopal Church by 2050. Now, before people make wrong assumptions about my motivation in saying that, let me hasten to state that I make those predictions with great sadness, and without any trace of smugness or schadenfreude. If I didn't love the Episcopal Church, I wouldn't have joined it, after having ministered in another tradition for nine years. But the Episcopal Church took a hard left turn after I got on board and sailed straight into an iceberg. And though the icy water has yet to hit the boiler room, several decks have already taken on water, and the ship is listing.

What prompted my conversation today was the news that the portion of the Diocese of Quincy that remained in the Episcopal Church after the majority voted to leave, in 2008, is now contemplating merging (being absorbed, more likely) into the Diocese of Chicago.

Being from Southern Illinois and having been ordained in the Diocese of Quincy, I know that the people of Quincy have far more in common with people in the Diocese of Springfield than the Diocese of Chicago. Quincy and Springfield have even shared youth camps and clergy retreats for many years. So the merger with Chicago seems odd to me. What I suspect may be inclining Quincy to look at Chicago is a question about the long term viability of Springfield and a sense that all of Illinois will eventually merge back into one diocese (as it was prior to 1877) anyway.

The situation in Illinois is far from unique. The TEC dioceses of Fort Worth and San Joaquin will have to be merged into their neighbors as soon as the lawsuits against departing Anglicans are settled. Given declines in membership, sooner or later, El Camino Real and Northern California will probably merge back into California. San Diego will merge back into Los Angeles. Northern Michigan and Eastern Oregon should have merged with one of their neighbors a long time ago. Western Kansas and Kansas should have merged as well.

Fond du Lac and Eau Claire thought they had agreed to merge last fall, but a recount showed it failed by one or two votes. I imagine that there are those in Fond du Lac who breathed a collective sigh of relief that they managed to avoid taking on the financial burden that the merger would have most likely entailed. But eventually, just as in Illinois, the three dioceses in Wisconsin may find themselves merging back into one. What appears certain is that the decreasing viability of a number of dioceses across the US means that the likelihood of mergers (or "junctioning," to use the episcopally correct term) will only increase.

A lot of dioceses will wait until it is too late and eat up their endowments before they merge: Delaware, Easton, and Maryland; Long Island and New York; Connecticut and Rhode Island. One could easily make the case that all the dioceses in upstate New York (Western New York, Rochester, Central New York, and Albany) ought to merge. The Episcopal landscape is going to look a lot different in the coming years. But, based on my estimates (taking into account the average age of Episcopalians, no conversion growth, low birthrate, and poor retention of young people), things start imploding at an alarming rate after about 2018--and that's only six years from now.

When I say that the Episcopal Church will be out of business by 2050, I don't mean that every last Episcopal church will close its doors. Trinity, Wall Street, has enough money to operate in some form until the eschaton. All Saints, Pasadena, will continue to survive as long as there are liberals in Los Angeles who need religious validation of their lifestyles and political views. The same can be said for Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, although they will probably never have another dean who will succeed in pulling that off with such an unusual combination of gravitas and panache as Alan Jones.

The Proctor and Gamble endowments in Southern Ohio and the Eli Lilly endowments in Indianapolis, and a number of other examples elsewhere, will insure that Episcopal parishes in various places survive in some form. But, increasingly, the Episcopal Church will be a network of wealthy (but not necessarily well attended) parishes in various metropolises with very little in between. Thanks to the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes, these churches already have their network. But what it means for the Episcopal Church to exist as a denomination will change radically; and for people in many parts of the country, the Episcopal Church will simply cease to exist as part of the religious landscape.

Which leads to my question: What will the Episcopal Church look like in 2030? One possible scenario would be for the Episcopal Church to operate on a model that is based around its provincial structure, instead of the current diocesan structures. That map would look something like this:

Each province would have a certain number of bishops and locate them wherever necessary in the province. The president of the province would function as a metropolitan.

Another, more conservative possibility might see the Church merged into, for example, around 30-40 domestic dioceses, instead of the current 100, and look something like this:

Let me make clear, this is just speculation. So if you live in, let's say, Mississippi, please don't write me and say, "But I don't want to be merged with Louisiana." It's just a guess. And it will probably be someone the age of your children who makes the decision in 18 years anyway. (That's six more General Conventions, for those who measure their life that way.)

The only thing certain about any of this is that the Episcopal Church will not have 100 domestic dioceses 18 years from now. What do you think the Episcopal Church will look like in 2030? Ask yourself. Send a comment, if you wish.


Sir Watkin said...

"But the Episcopal Church took a hard left turn after I got on board"

My! What was it you said/did?

TLF+ said...

It would make sense to junction North and South Dakota. I would worry about junction with Minnesota, however, given that diocese's penchant for neglect of rural & small town churches. But I suppose that would be inevitable and Minneapolis would become HQ in this region.

Dan Crawford said...

Will there be an Episcopal Church in the USA?

Tregonsee said...

As a cradle Episcopalian who left after 58 years, sad but realistic news. Absent a true miracle, the next PB will probably be the last PB who will have it in their power to turn this around. Of course, that assumes the wisdom and will to do so. Even a few liberals have learned a lesson with ++KJS, but a true reformer appears to be unlikely, at best.

Canon Tallis said...

They could sack all of the current bishops, return to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and see a turn around. But, of course, they won't. The hard left allied to the homosexual underground won't give up control so they will drive the Episcopal (whatever it now is) into oblivion.

I became an Episcopalian as a teenager, a college freshman, and I thought it the center of what was best in the world. And while I continued to find some wonderful parishes and priests over the years, I was already in the process of disappointment and disillusionment by my mid twenties. Today I remain an Anglican, believing and practicing the faith I found in the historic prayer books but finding what was left of the American Church something that really needs to be put out of its misery as you would with a horse with a broken leg. May God have mercy on those poor souls still trapped therein.

David Veale said...

I agree that the current model is unsustainable. What might be a better option might be to have at least some non-geographic dioceses. So, say, the dioceses of Albany, Springfield, and South Carolina could somehow join. Likewise the dioceses of Newark, New Hampshire and Los Angeles could link up. These types of alliances could create larger entites with some real strength both on the left and the right and give the Church more viability for the long term.

RMBruton said...

Dean Munday,
I do not think it is simply a question of whether TEC/ACC will be around in thirty years, but whether the other Continuing Episcopalian churches, or as my friend Robin calls them Alternative Episcopalian churches, will be around. I'm fairly certain that those establishments which are financially well-supported will be around. The Continuing/Alternative Episcopalians, I am much less certain of. The question I have is is will there be any difference between the two? I believe that the Continuing/Alternative Episcopalians have simply reset the snooze button and are perhaps fifteen years behind TEC in doctrinal and ecclesiological de-evolution. They have bought themselves some time, but not very much. And, to what end ultimately? Perhaps an eventual re-unification with TEC.

The Rev Canon Dr David Wilson said...

Hi Robert

The rump TEC Diocese of Pittsburgh for a brief moment following realignment put up a trial balloon of junctioning with the Diocese of NWPA (Erie) which was quickly deflated by forces in both dioceses.

TJ McMahon said...

A few years ago, I threw all the TEC numbers into a spreadsheet and came up with a prediction that in 2028, the diocese of Haiti would have more Episcopalians than the rest of TEC combined. It is already the largest diocese, and while the devastating earthquake has caused many difficulties for the Church there, it continues to grow.
In fact, if my model proves correct, TEC will fall to a membership of about 1/2 million at that time, and then, should Haiti continue to grow, TEC would reverse its decline- because the growing Haiti would become larger than the declining 100 dioceses in the US. Eventually, almost the entire Church would be located in Haiti, with a couple of other pockets in C America, S Carolina and a few metro areas in the US.

Bishop Daniel Martins said...

Tregonsee, no PB--past, present, or future--has the power to turn TEC around. Any "turnarounds" will be accomplished by and in dioceses. 815 isn't even marginal, it's irrelevant. And I will add the predictions of the demise of the Diocese of Springfield are premature. We face the usual list of challenges. But we're not out. We're not even down. Stay tuned.

Robert S. Munday said...

Bishop Martins: I want to hasten to make clear that I do not think the demise of the Diocese of Springfield is imminent. I was making a guess as to why the current leadership in TEC Quincy would prefer to seek a merger with Chicago rather than Springfield. I am guessing that that THEY may see it that way. As I said in my post, I think Quincy should have sought a merger with Springfield and am very disappointed that they did not do so.

Bishop Daniel Martins said...

I am told (indirectly) that one of the reasons Quincy has looked toward Chicago is based on the legal opinion from the PB's Chancellor that Chicago is the successor to the original Diocese of Illinois (questionable, since that diocese gave birth to the three--Quincy, Springfield, & Chicago--simultaneously). Hence, Quincy can "go back" without the approval of General Convention. For financial reasons, time is of the essence, apparently. Another factor may be that I have made it clear that Springfield has no interest in being a party to property litigation.

John Richmond said...

I am a non-parochial priest, resident in Springfield but living in Quincy. Quincy, whether with or without the parishes that split off, was--and would be--a marginal diocese, at best, in terms of finances. I know that money is not everything, but Q. is a diocese that is minimally sustainable. Which is too bad, truly. As I understand it, it would take less time, and Q. folks would be in limbo for a shorter period of time, if they joined with Chicago--Chicago being the modern remnant, if you will, of the Diocese of IL. Merging with, or being absorbed by, other surrounding dioceses would take (?) three years, I think. There are serious questions about how long Q. can or could hang on, even if ECUSA won the legal battles.

There could be issues with Chicago, of course, but they would be primarily the same issues that affect parishes *outside* Chicago and the collar counties, i.e., fears of being forgotten or ignored, and without a huge focus on other matters theological. That, of course, is my opinion and/or conjecture.

John Richmond

Robert S. Munday said...

Bishop Martins, thank you for that clarification. It explains a great deal.

Robert S. Munday said...

Thank you, Fr. Richmond. I appreciate your concern, which is one of mine also. I know clergy in outlying parishes in the Diocese of Chicago who say that they feel very much alone. And parishes in what is now the Diocese of Quincy are even farther away.

I don't know if you were living in the Peoria area back when residents of Western Illinois coined the name "Forgottonia" to express their feelings that they had been forgotten by Illinois state government. There is even a Wikipedia article about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forgottonia

The area that is the Diocese of Quincy has felt neglected in many ways for most of its history.

Anglican Beach Party said...

I give you bonus points for using the word "eschaton"!

Fr. Glen said...

As I read through the posts, I am still saddened That Jesus has been so marginalized by all sides. He waits quietly in the corner waiting for us to get back to going into the world preaching the Gospel. I only pray that we shall.