The Lord Has Promised Good to Me
The Diocese of Virginia includes nearly 70,000 baptized Christians, including more than 400 clergy, serving our communities, the Church, and the world through the ministries of 179 congregations, six diocesan schools, six diocesan homes, and two diocesan conference centers. Home to the largest Anglican seminary in the world, our Diocese stretches from rural Tidewater, where Anglicanism first came to North America, west to Appalachia, and from the bustling inner suburbs of Washington, D.C. south to Richmond and Central Virginia.
The diversity of the people who live within our boundaries can be seen in the variations of the ways we worship, the geographic environments in which we live, the languages we speak, and the ever-growing variations in our racial and ethnic makeup. The growing diversity and the desire for all people to be heard have offered wide variety in determining how we best emulate Jesus and follow his teachings – how we become Christ in the world. At the same time, grace has helped to unite our Diocese – a common belief of the saving work of God as taught to us by Jesus.
Our Diocese is emulating very much the same trends the national Episcopal Church is experiencing in terms of membership, plate & pledge, and average weekly worship attendance as shown in the graphic below:
The Diocese of Virginia has not been immune to national downward trends, yet the aggregated numbers don’t tell the whole story. Although the majority of our congregations have not grown significantly in recent years, we are convinced that the vitality and growth we have experienced in a our churches can point the way forward into the fruitful and fulfilling future to which God is calling us. It’s not simply one variety, size, or location of church which has experienced this growth, which tells us that even more growth is possible if we follow where these churches lead.
For a 10-year period prior to the pandemic, 26 of our congregations reported growth of more than 10% in Sunday attendance.
Locations of the 26 churches showing strong growth:
Average Sunday attendance of the 26 at the end of the 10-year period:
Two of the 26 are Spanish-speaking congregations; two of the 26 are historically African-American.
Between 2018 and 2019 (the last year before the pandemic), 50 of our churches saw increases in plate-and-pledge income at more than double the rate of inflation.
Locations of the 50 churches showing strong growth in giving:
- Suburban – 20
- Rural – 14
- Urban – 7
- Small town – 9
Two of the 50 are Spanish-speaking; two of the 50 are historically African-American; one of the 50 is Korean-speaking; 24 of the 50 had increases of 10% or more in plate-and-pledge income for 2019.
Church decline is far from the only story in the Diocese of Virginia, and our churches are showing us the wide spectrum of ways God is planting seeds and tending growth even now.
The people of the 38 counties towns, and cities within our Diocese are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. The 2020 U.S. Census shows the racial makeup is as follows: 60% White, 15% Black, 13% Hispanic, 10% Asian, 1% American Indian, 2% other (data from https://census.gov). Like much of the Episcopal Church, the vast majority of our churches are predominately white. Others are more racially diverse, and a few are predominantly or historically African-American, Hispanic/Latino, or Asian.
The geographic diversity of our Diocese is equaled by the diversity of our experiences of Church and our expressions of faith. We meet, pray, and serve in more than four languages, in churches of every size, in urban, suburban, and rural communities. Our worship—traditional, contemporary, high church, low church—takes place in 18th-century churches built on colonial plantations, and modernist churches built to proclaim the Gospel in the sprawling new suburbs of the 1960s. Some of our congregations are nearly 400 years old, and others are brand-new church plants. Our historic evangelical ethos is evident in leadership and in our congregations, a lively mixture of faithful Christians: some with deep local roots and others from all over the country and the world, some just discovering Christian faith, and others with long personal or family history in the Church.
Given migration trends, we believe our future will be blessed with the same geographic and demographic diversity we’ve enjoyed in recent years. At the same time, we recognize our racial diversity in our diocesan membership, clergy, and leadership does not reflect the general population within our Diocese, nor are our Spanish- and Korean-speaking churches consistently represented at a diocesan level. We understand the hard task ahead of enabling our churches to be as Christ to everyone.
While aware of the challenges ahead of us, the people of the Diocese of Virginia are united in our desire to participate in the kingdom of God. We know God has promised good to us and await a bishop who can continue the kingdom work Jesus started while helping to shepherd us toward God’s deep hope for our future.