Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Small Congregations With Old Church Buildings: A South Carolina Example

The story of a typical Episcopal congregation's problem was published at the "Index-Journal" a week ago. The problem is that the average Episcopal congregation is very small, aging, shrinking, barely able to pay for a full-time priest, and often stuck with an old church building that has not been properly maintained due to lack of funds.

ABBEVILLE -- Trinity Episcopal Church’s 36-member congregation is working to repair and renovate the 156-year-old church.
“It’s not just a church effort, but it’s a community effort because the church is not ours -- it belongs to the community,” said the Rev. Todd Oswald, who has been the priest at Trinity for about a year.
Trinity, which was completed and consecrated in November 1860 -- just days before Abraham Lincoln was elected president and weeks before South Carolina voted to secede from the Union -- is the oldest church in Abbeville County, and maintaining its aging structure is a constant challenge. Oswald said, “There have been numerous efforts to restore the church.” In 2014, the congregation enlisted Charleston-based Meadors Inc. to conduct an architectural assessment of the building, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Oswald said the study found it would cost $2.3 million to fully restore Trinity -- a steep price for a small congregation.

For photographs and the complete story go to the Index-Journal's post.

Trinity Abbeville is in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. The following chart illustrates the trouble they are in.

With only 28 active members (based on average Sunday attendance, a 2.3 million dollar renovation would cost each member $82,000, which is more than the total Plate/Pledge the entire congregation gives each year. So, the renovation is not going to happen without outside help, hence the priest's call for a "community effort" and his claim that that the church "belongs to the community".

Poor guy, I think he is living in a dream world, but that would be exactly what one would expect from someone who stayed with the rump "Episcopal Diocese in South Carolina", that self-deluded remnant which did not do the sensible thing and leave "The Episcopal Organization" after its rejection of important parts of the Bible. Talk about jumping from the fire into the frying pan.

As is typical for a church in the frying pan with not enough cooks in the kitchen, the renovations will have to wait and patches to the roof are about all that can be done (source: their newsletter).

Multiply this small congregation's mess by several thousand similar churches nationwide and you can start to paint a picture of the issues The Episcopal Organization will face over the next several decades as its membership numbers continue to decline.

Taking a look just at Upper South Carolina, we see that out of 59 parishes, 23 (38%)  have an average Sunday attendance (ASA) of 50 or less. 14 have an ASA of 30 or less (data from 2015, source: The Episcopal Organization's Statistics Pages).

In the future, many of these small congregations will go belly up, their buildings will be sold, but hopefully they will be preserved by others and converted into houses of worship for a new generation of the faithful.

Except, gone will be the sign, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You". 

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