2/24/2007

Numbers, we’ve got numbers, we’ve got lots and lots of numbers.

How refreshing to know that the realignment bean counters have done the numbers for us, after all, with them doing the counting we all know our days as progressives are indeed numbered.

First, there is the widely bandied about number of 30 Million… that is the number represented by the Global South Primates who refused to go to the Lord's Table with the Presiding Bishop. That's what the Archbishop of Nigeria and others said.

That's a bit different than the numbers touted for the whole of the Global South group. The "Third Trumpet" communiqué gave the number as 2/3 of the total Anglicans. At 70 Million that is 46 million.

Then again the number 70 Million is somewhere between the outside guess of 76 Million and about 60 Million. There is considerable question as to the actual number of Anglicans in the world.

The reason for all the variations is that no one knows… what in the world does it mean to speak of all these people? How do you count?

How, for example are we to count the number of Anglicans in Nigeria. Over and over again we hear that Nigeria has the largest number of active 'on the ground' Anglicans in the world. What is the most useful number in regards to Anglicans in the Church of England? The most recent lists I have seen give the number at 26 Million. The number of adherents, judging from actual attendance in church, is considerably smaller.

Stephen Bates suspects that the number of Anglicans in Nigeria, touted as somewhere between 17 and 20 million, is an overreach. He says, "Even Nigeria, which has claims to be the most vibrant province and says it has 18.5 million Anglicans (a tripling in the last 30 years) produces some pretty dubious accounting methods to reach that number, including many members several times over."

Yesterday a new set of numbers came in, regarding Anglicans in the United States. The Moderator of the Network, Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh, stated this in his letter to the Diocese of Pittsburgh: "Statistics bearing out the assertion that the Network and Windsor Dioceses, together with AMiA, CANA, and Network Convocation and Conference parishes across the country, represented a number equal to one-quarter of The Episcopal Church's membership, minimally some 500,000 souls, a number larger than 18 Provinces of the Anglican Communion."

This number is a mishmash.

These statistics mix apples and oranges: AMiA, CANA and "Conference" (that's the Network International Conference) represent congregants that may have belonged to the Episcopal Church, but do not now. The Windsor "Coalition" consists of dioceses that are part of the Episcopal Church, (Network Dioceses are included in this). The Statistics offered in support of the general claim of 500,000 "soul" includes every member of every Network Diocese, and every Non-Network Windsor Diocese, as well as the numbers for such groups as the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Province of America, neither of which groups are part of the Anglican Communion, even by way of inclusion in a Province.

But all of the non-Episcopal Church groups put together yield less than 44,000 members. AMiA / ACIA folk (109 parishes) do not offer a list of baptized members. The large majority of the 25% are people currently part of the Episcopal Church. As members they may or may not be disaffected from the so called "Majority (innovating) TEC." The estimate in the statistics offered are that that number is about 440,000 of the 500,000 touted in the Moderator's count. All the other groups together constitute less than 10 percent of the whole of his number.

What the Moderator is saying then is that roughly one quarter of the active members of the Episcopal Church are to be counted as contrary to the "Majority (innovating) TEC." The numbers he cites do not support this.

These numbers are a fiction, howbeit a fiction not unrelated to realities we must deal with.

Then we get the big one: The Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian group in the world, after the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox. This is a number bandied about by almost everyone in the ecclesiastical numbers game. What in the world does it mean? It means we want to be contenders.. playing with the big kids. But it is also a prideful number, unrelated to the realities that we are not a "church" like the Roman Catholic Church nor are we a "church" like the Orthodox bodies. We are something different.

So the numbers go on and on.

And, interestingly, no one offers a reason why numbers should count.

Here is a secret: They don't, unless you are interested in playing with the big kids.

The only number that counts is "One." As in God is One, and in Jesus Christ we are one.


12 comments:

  1. Great. Now I've got "Dear Perry, would you be so kind/to fill this request..." running through my brain. Thanks for the memories, Mark. :)

    As for numbers, they can be skewed to prove just about anything. The only ones that really count in something like this are the ones that can be verified without qualifications.

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  2. As i read your post, this song kept coming up for me:

    One (by U2)

    Is it getting better
    Or do you feel the same
    Will it make it easier on you
    Now you got someone to blame
    You say one love, one life
    When it's one need in the night
    It's one love
    We get to share it
    It leaves you baby
    If you don't care for it

    Did I disappoint you
    Or leave a bad taste in your mouth
    You act like you never had love
    And you want me to go without
    Well it's too late tonight
    To drag the past out into the light
    We're one but we're not the same
    We get to carry each other, carry each other
    One

    Have you come here for forgiveness
    Have you come to raise the dead
    Have you come here to play Jesus
    To the lepers in your head
    Did I ask too much
    More than a lot
    You gave me nothing
    Now it's all I got
    We're one but we're not the same
    We hurt each other, then we do it again

    You say love is a temple
    Love a higher law
    Love is a temple
    Love the higher law
    You ask me to enter but then you make me crawl
    And I can't be holding on to what you got
    When all you got is hurt
    One love, one blood, one life
    You got to do what you should
    One life with each other
    Sisters, brothers
    One life but we're not the same
    We get to carry each other, carry each other
    One
    One

    Bono says: "It's a father-and-son story. I tried to write about someone I knew who was coming out and was afraid to tell his father. It's a religious father and son. I have a lot of gay friends, and I've seen them screwed up from unloving family situations, which are just completely anti-Christian. If we know anything about God, it's that God is love. That's part of the song. And then it's also about people struggling to be together, and how difficult it is to stay together in this world, whether you're in a band or in a relationship." (Rolling Stone interview)

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  3. Cheryl Clough, on another site, reminds us that God was displeased with the people when they counted how many of them there were. Even the ancient Jews seem to have known numbers don't count. God's power was made known when there were few Hebrews in comparison to their foes.
    Peace,
    Lois Keen

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  4. You are right, One is the only number that counts.

    One Lord
    One Faith
    One Hope
    One Baptism
    One Body of Christ

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  5. I'll bear this out, Mark. Central Florida was the first of the ten dioceses to affilicate with the Network. A full third of the convention's laity and clergy (including myself) voted no. If this is typical of Network dioceses across the board (and I have no reason to think otherwise), then the Network would represent no more than 6-7% of the Episcopal Church. Adding all the rest of the pseudo-Anglican bodies together wouldn't get anywhere near the half-million that Duncan touts. It is willfully misleading which is, in a word, a lie for Duncan to make such claims. Unfortunately, this is also typical for him.

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  6. numbers can sometimes reveal things. In the NY diocese in 1960, there were 139,000 communicants and now there are 64,000. Anyone claiming spiritual vibrancy there needs to explain that. Bishop Spong, during his tenure, presided over an even moren precipitous decline, all the while talking about how the Episcopal Church should adopt policies that are more like those in his diocese because the alternative would be a condition of decline.

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  7. anonymous...please use some sort of name. If not this is the last time I can add your post. Without some way of distinguishing the players I have no way of telling you, making an interesting point, from anonymous posting rot.

    On the numbers of Episcopalians, see the essay on this http://www.episcopalchurch.org/documents/2004GrowthReport(1).pdf
    which in general deals with the peak, gradual decline, and one time major drop. No doubt there are major issues here, and you suggest this is true in NY. NY does need to explain what is going on. The Diocese of Newark probably has similar demographic, cultural and social issues as has New York, and differences in Diocesan leadership as well. So the number changes will be for somewhat different reasons.

    Whether or not what is revealed has to do with the nature of the leadership is not clear. It remains to be seen, for example, whether or not "spiritual vibrancy" is measurably different as a result of the change in numbers up or down. Suppose it could be shown that on some measure of spiritual vibrancy the 64,000 in New York now are more alive than the 139,000 in 1960? What would that mean?

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  8. I agree with you, Mark, that the numbers game is not important. Not to mention (as you suggest) that it is dangerously difficult actually to get the numbers. The entire question merits some deep study of Scripture, to ponder the theme of the faithful remnant and what it means in the context of divisions of opinion within the Church. Certainly the example of Scripture shows that the multitude is not always right, may frequently be dead wrong, and that the truth may well reside in the lone voice that speaks prophetically. However, I admit that this is a complex issue which should not simply be larded over with proof texts, but explored in a spirit of love with a view to understanding what God is saying through the whole of Scripture.

    But I am concerned with another thing touched on in your post, and that is the reference to the communiqué “Sitting at the Lord’s Table”, which appears on the website of the Nigerian Church. I am sure that the Global South Primates who refused to share in the Holy Eucharist with their fellow primates did so out of deep sincerity of intention, and that they believe their actions to be supported by Holy Scripture and Anglican tradition. Certainly they were good enough to offer the specific texts that informed their actions, i.e., Matthew 5.23-26, 1 Corinthians 11.27-29, and the Invitation to Confession in the Book of Common Prayer, and this is very useful for further reflection. It is much better than piling judgement onto generalization, which so often happens.

    However, there is an aspect of these texts they may have overlooked. I have not seen any comment on it elsewhere, so I venture to discuss it myself. For it may be that far from supporting the action of the non-communicant primates, these texts actually condemn it. Consider first Matthew 5.23-26. This is our Lord saying that if one is about to bring one’s offering to the altar and remembers that one’s brother has a grievance against one, then one needs to go immediately to make peace, only then returning to the altar. Now I could more easily see this text being used by the non-communicant primates to argue that Bishop Schori should have stayed away from the Holy Eucharist, as one suspects they would have wished. However, they chose to recuse themselves, which leaves them open to the charge that the trouble lies in the grievance Bishop Schori may have with them, rather than vice versa. And in any event, as the text shows us, the purpose of leaving the altar is to make peace, not simply to demonstrate that a relationship is broken. We already knew that! – but what the whole passage argues is that we refrain from reconciling at our peril. Unless the non-communicant primates immediately engaged in the making of peace called for by Jesus, we cannot be sure that they actually honoured the text they cite.

    The passage 1 Corinthians 11.27-29 poses a similar problem. Again, it would have been more logical had the non-communicant primates used this text to argue why Bishop Schori should be excommunicated. As it is, I wonder how it would have been that receiving the Lord’s bread and drinking from his cup would have dishonoured them – especially with Jesus’ own example to consider. As it stands, it looks as if they feared they had not examined themselves sufficiently, were not ready to recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when they ate the bread and drank from the cup, and so were fearful of bringing judgement on themselves as they ate and drank. Now I am sure they were not thinking of themselves in this sense, but of Bishop Schori, but I feel sure that more thorough meditation on the text might have brought them to a different conclusion than the one they arrived at.

    Finally there is the matter of traditional Anglican understanding, as embodied in the Invitation to Confession in the Communion Service. As the non-communicant primates acknowledge, this invitation is extended to those who truly and earnestly repent their sins, are in love and charity with their neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways. Again, it would have made more sense to cite this passage in arguing that it was really meant for Bishop Schori to pay attention to. As it stands, the non-communicants risk the conclusion that they themselves were not in love and charity with their neighbours, did not intend to lead a new life, and thus could not draw near in faith. They might well shrink from such a conclusion, but the text itself leaves the possibility open.

    I have written before now on this blog my opinion that it is the Prayer of Humble Access, not the interests of one group or another, that determines who is eligible to share the Holy Communion with whom. That is, we do not trust in our own righteousness but in God’s manifold and great mercies. We are all of us – not merely Bishop Schori – unworthy to gather up the crumbs under God’s Table. But we trust in his mercy and his grace to lead us into that state of union where we dwell in him and he in us. Certainly the Book of Common Prayer teaches us that there are situations warranting the formal exclusion of a person from the Holy Communion. But willfully refusing to share Holy Communion with another sinner is – I think – actively condemned by Holy Scripture and by traditional Anglican understanding, however sincere an act it is intended to be. It does far more than merely mark the torn fabric of the Church, it actively contributes to the tearing.

    Charles Abbott Conway
    Great Tew Vicarage
    Diocese of Oxford

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  9. Dave Says:

    I read that in 1960's the Episcopal church started losing members from it's peak because baby boomers kids went to college and quit the Episcopal Church, and then the parents quit going. I have five children, three of my own two step children all raised Episcopalian. None are now in the Episcopal Church, two are Southern Baptist, two don't go to church at all, and one is so alieneted by this pushing of the gay agenda that she is actively looking elsewhere. She says I wasn't raised with these moral values and I don't want to send my children to a church that supports gay values. There is your vibrancy in the church. Both that are Southern Babtists teach sunday school .

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  10. "Gay values," are you kidding me? Certainly spoken by one who has little or no experience with homosexual *people*. The gay folks I know *value* the same things than anyone else values: friendship, acceptance, grace, hard work, faithfulness, peace, intimacy, humor, all the unalienable human rights, on and on.

    What are the values actually being taught by the "vibrant" church you describe, Dave? Prejudice, disdain, marginalization, fear... I know of no one, homosexual or not, who values these things, much less takes them as good news. If it's not good news, it's not Gospel and if it's not Gospel, it does not reflect Christian values.

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  11. There are 3 words that came to mind as I was reading this post: pot, kettle and black. Why do you point the finger at the conservatives when ECUSA plays even worse games with its reported numbers?

    Even as an evangelical, I admit I am somewhat sceptical about the numbers of true Christians claimed to be members of the Nigerian church, just as I am sceptical about the numbers of converted Christians claimed to be members of ECUSA. But quibbling about plus or minus a few million in the Nigerian church, or plus or minus a few hundred thousand in ECUSA doesn't change the fact that even the Nigerian church on its own is 2 orders of magnitude larger than ECUSA, even on a bad day.

    Nor can one dispute that there is a significant difference in the trend of ASA between the 2 churches - do you really doubt that the Nigerian church is rapidly growing and the ECUSA is rapidly shrinking?

    Do you know why this is? I would suggest because of the difference in the gospel that is being proclaimed in the Nigerian church comapred with ECUSA's gospel - Nigeria proclaims the gospel of God, found in every page of the Bible. ECUSA proclaims the gospel of man. One has real hope because it focuses on the atoning death of our Lord Jesus, his bodily resurrection, the reality of human sin, the sure hope of forgiveness of sin through Christ's death alone, and the certainty of eternal life through his resurrection alone. The other has no eternal hope because it focuses on man's response to God, and in ECUSA this seems to be entirely centred on fulfilling the MDG's.

    Brian F

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  12. "Play with the big boys?" If that means numbers are thrown about so as to intimidate, then yes, that's why numbers matter. We're a hoard and we're going to run over you. That's the implication. There's more of us who believe it this way and so we're going to tell you what to do. It's a compensation. I'm only one person with an opinion and I'm not falling for it.

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