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?!

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