Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Mission and Ministry: Responding to Schism and Economic Downturn

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Mission and Ministry: Responding to Schism and Economic Downturn

Article excerpt

In the summer of 2007 I accepted a call to serve as rector of St. Pauls Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania (a close-in suburb of Pittsburgh). Like many Episcopalians, I was well aware of the storm of schism sweeping through the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Like most Episcopalians, I was totally unaware that we were also about to be hit by an economic tsunami. Fortunately, St. Paul's has weathered the theological and financial storms that have buffeted our region. Our goal, however, is to thrive, not just survive. This article explores the impact of the schism (minimal, thanks be to God) and the economic downturn (more significant) on this parish, the steps being taken to move forward into a bright future, and the theological imperative for doing so.


St. Paul s was founded in 1836 near downtown Pittsburgh. In the 1920s it abandoned its original site to move to the suburbs. Our current location is marked by our cornerstone dated 1930. After struggling financially during the Depression years, the situation improved during World War II, and during the 1950s and 1960s St. Pauls was one of the fastest growing Episcopal churches in the country.

In more recent times, the high water mark for the size of St. Paul's was 1999, when average Sunday attendance (ASA) was just over 400. During the next seven years there would be a steady decline to ASA of 290. The 27 percent slide between 1999 and 2006 served as a wake-up call for the parish leadership. The parish profile developed during 2006 for the rector search process fisted as the first goal, "Enhancing church membership." ASA rose to 317 in 2008 and remained the same for 2009. 1

In spite of the decline, St. Pauls remains a large parish with over 1,300 baptized members, multiple staff, and large numbers of children, youth, and young families. However, the parish is dependent on annual giving for 90 percent of its income, with no endowment or other significant sources of income.

Effect of the Split in the Diocese

On October 4, 2008, the annual convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted in favor of "realignment," purporting to leave the Episcopal Church and to affiliate with the Province of the Southern Cone.2 However, there were many anticipatory actions taken by Bishop Robert Duncan and the other leadership of the diocese to move away from the Episcopal Church. The direction of the bishop and his followers was well known long before the action taken in 2008, and much of the effect of the diocesan split on St. Paul s was felt in the months and years before the final action. Anecdotal evidence suggests that for several years leading up to the split a number of parishioners may have left, but for different reasons. Some may have gone to more "liberal" parishes out of concern that St. Paul's was too conservative and leaning toward Bishop Duncan; some may have left for parishes more clearly aligned with Bishop Duncan, given St. Pauls more moderate stance. And some parishioners may have dropped out because they were tired of hearing about the issues raised by Bishop Duncan.

When I was interviewed by Bishop Duncan while being called to serve as rector, he told me that St. Pauls was split 50/50. He believed that 50 percent of the congregation supported him and his direction, and 50 percent was opposed. Based on my information, I felt a more accurate assessment was that about 5 percent of the congregation supported him, and the rest were either opposed, neutral, or essentially unaware of the situation.

Based on the reaction of the parish after the formal split in the diocese occurred, my assessment would seem to be much more accurate than Bishop Duncan's. No parishioner suggested that we should have voted for "realignment." (The St. Paul's deputation voted unanimously against it.) Many parishioners stepped up to take on leadership positions as the diocese reorganized. And since "realignment," the number of St. Paul's parishioners who have joined realigned parishes can be counted on the fingers of one hand. …

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