By Frederick Schmidt
According to data gathered by the Pension Fund for the Episcopal Church, in 2002 there were 13,616 clergy. Of those, thirty were under the age of 30, 195 were under the age of 35, and 399 were under the age of 40. Today, the average age at ordination is 44 and the average age of active Episcopal clergy is 54.
The age demographics in the pew are no better. In 1965, the Episcopal Church had 3.6 million members and Episcopalians constituted 1.9 percent of the U.S. population. Since 1965, however, membership has declined precipitously. The net result is a graying church.
The average Episcopalian is 57 years old. If that benchmark does not change, roughly half of the church's membership will die in the next eighteen years. And that is as good as it gets. Since 60 percent of Episcopal congregations have a membership of 100 or less, the rate of decline will probably pick up speed.
As important as my tradition is to me, I would never argue that the fate of The Episcopal Church and the Church are one in the same. But we are the canary in the Protestant mineshaft—along with the Disciples, UCC, and Presbyterian Church, USA. When we finally fall off the perch, blue with exhaustion, the rest of mainline Protestantism might want to take note. The undertaker is coming.
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The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. is Director of Spiritual Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. He is the author of several books, including Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of Luke (Morehouse, 2009) and What God Wants for Your Life (Harper One, 2005).