On Maps and Mission

So I have been looking at the recently released data from the 2010 US Religion Census. The Episcopal Church has 1.9 million members according to the latest figures. (This is down from the historic high water mark of 3.4 million in the 1960s.) In most US counties where TEC is present (and there are plenty where it is not), the average number of Episcopalians is at or below 1% of that county’s population. Now, as the Crusty Old Dean has reminded us, the Episcopal Church has never been numerically large. But the visual graphics are striking.  Here is the map I am talking about:

So, red is the highest population of Episcopalians (mostly around Native American reservations), clocking in at 5% or higher of the population. Then you get a nice smattering of oranges in the traditional East Coast bases of the church. But even there we are only talking about 1% to 4.99% of the population. Then the yellows and greens (like where I live in California) show where less than 1% of the population is part of the Episcopal Church. Then take a minute and look at all the grey area. County upon county where the Episcopal Church is not present. Sure, you can point to the middle of the country and say, well, no one lives there.  But that would be a lie. And you see many counties with solid population centers. The Episcopal Church just is not there.

Some would look at this map and see a map of the decline and near-collapse of the Episcopal Church.

Not me.

I look at that map and see a great option for the mission of proclaiming the Anglican way of living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I don’t see decline.  I see new opportunities for ministry and mission.

Do you?

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8 Comments

Filed under Episcopal Church and Anglicanism, Mission, Technology

8 responses to “On Maps and Mission

  1. jankotuby

    In Utah, our motto used to be, “Six-tenths of one percent, but we make a difference!” And, we do. And, we are starting to talk again about mission – returning to our roots as a missionary diocese and what that meant/means. How do we preach the gospel in very rural, very LDS areas? We will see in the next few years

  2. This is fascinating, Dan. I’m REALLY struck by the high concentration of Episcopalians around Native American reservations. I NEVER would have guessed that to be one of the highest concentration areas! Do you have any sense why that would be? That might provide helpful data and grist for the mill here.

    Also: I am SO with you on the mission potential. The polarization of U.S. society today on so many levels suggests to me that people are sick of it and want something at least akin to the “via media” approach. But we (Episcopalians) tend to have NO CLUE about how to package that, sell it, make it attractive. NO CLUE. And sorry if I’m stepping on toes here, but the most recent iteration of TEC’s tagline: “We’re here for you?” Really? That’s what we want to say? Ho hum. BORING.

    And since I’m in a ranting mode: Dan, I really appreciated one of your recent blog posts about the “open table” question. To quote from Acts, “thou almost persuadest me…” But not quite. I firmly believe that an open Eucharistic table is BOTH the key to evangelism in a 21st century U.S. society, AND sound biblical and theological reasoning. Most people simply do not follow a neat and tidy and linear path into encounters with God. If the first thing they encounter is an institutional barrier, game over. More than that, I’m not persuaded that there is a difference between how Jesus shared meals in his ministry and what he did at the “Last Supper.” Nor am I persuaded by historical arguments that the institution found the exclusion justifiable. So what? I choose to side with Jesus on religious rules: The sabbath was made for humanity not humanity for the sabbath. If we can facilitate encounters with the living God by having an open table, is God really going to begrudge that??

    (I told I was in ranting mode.) I really love the work you’re doing and this blog. Please keep it up. And let’s figure out this 21st century mission thing. It should be a no-brainer given Anglican treasures and legacies. Why are we so good at hiding our lamp under a bushel???

    Here endeth the rant.

    • Jay,

      I love your rants so don’t apologize.

      Regarding the high percentage of Episcopalians in Native American population areas, I think it is a basic story of mission. Whipple, Oakerhater, Enhmegabowh and others did mission among indigenous people there. And this mission went beyond a soup kitchen or clothing drive. It was full on evangelism, catechesis, and ministry to the sick, the poor, and the vulnerable. Episcopalians are good at the latter but need to do more with adding in the former. What would it look like to do this sort of mission in Contra Costa County?

      Regarding the open table question. I sort of regret putting that issue into a blog post that I intended to be more about the potential of the vision of an “Agape Restaurant.” Really what I am saying about open communion is to not change the canon on it but also not to become more stringent in policing the rail. (Who really has ever seen “altar cops” in an Episcopal context anyhow?) But if a parish is going to practice open communion explicitly, it needs to be very intentional about how it takes responsibility for those it offers the sacrament to. Where is the follow on conversation? The welcome elsewhere than at the rail? The inivtation to discipleship? How does it match up with our current baptismal ecclesiology that declares baptism to be the foundational sacrament, not the eucharist?

      When I get back to Berkeley, let’s get together. Maybe even regularly and intentionally. We’re only across the street from one another!

  3. 12% of Episcopal congregations were founded after 1968. We are not where the people are, never have been, largely due to a complete inability to do mission work. No, I take that back — we were where the people were in 1768…that is, if you lived in Virginia, Maryland, Philadelphia, or the five boroughs of New York. Wait a minute, how did we last this long?

  4. Pingback: More Pruning Thoughts: An Update and some Links | Plainsong Farm

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