(RNS) Domestic membership in the Episcopal Church dropped by 3 percent in 2008, continuing a decline in which the denomination has lost almost 200,000 American members since 2004, according to Episcopal researchers.
The Episcopal Church now counts slightly more than 2 million members in about 7,000 U.S. parishes. Church leaders say they are pleased, however, that the denomination is growing in its non-domestic dioceses, particularly in Haiti and Latin America, where the church counted about 168,000 members in 470 parishes last year.
Still, the church is “swimming against some difficult cultural tides,” Matilda Kistler, who heads a state-of-the-church committee in the denomination’s House of Deputies, said in a statement.
“We find ourselves facing a society that is gravitating toward secularism,” Kistler said. “We also believe that the church-going segment of the public is aging significantly, though the committee will be seeking more definitive data to ascertain if that is so.”
Kistler acknowledged that “internal conflicts within the Episcopal Church have also distracted from the message of hope our clergy and lay leaders seek to share.”
In 2003, the church consecrated an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire, setting off a furor among conservative Episcopalians and the global Anglican Communion, which counts the Episcopal Church as its U.S. branch. Four dioceses and dozens of parishes have since left the Episcopal Church, some to join a rival denomination, the Anglican Church in North America.
On Saturday (Dec. 5), Episcopalians in Los Angeles elected a lesbian priest as an assistant bishop, despite pleas from Anglican bishops throughout the world not to elect any more gay bishops. The Rev. Mary Glasspool must still have her election confirmed by a majority of the church’s diocesan standing committees and bishops before she is consecrated as a bishop.
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