Episcopal Diocese of Newark Faces Uncertain Future
Closing parishes, declining membership, financial losses and fear of merging on minds of clergy and laity
By David W. Virtue
January 10, 2010
The Episcopal Diocese of Newark faces an uncertain future with significant membership and financial decline being reported. Fully one third of the diocese has part time clergy (with the trend continuing). Parish leaders and laity are unable to articulate a five year vision.
A "Listening Campaign report" filed by the diocese questioned the need for full time clergy at $100,000 per package, with numerous churches functioning with interims or involved laity. More parishes will close owing to aging congregations with no young people. Churches that were town centers have lost that position and now feel alienated.
Parishes are afraid of their bishop and their relationship with the diocese. Many have expressed the fear that the diocese might merge with another diocese. "When you go deeper into this, there is a fear of loss of identity and loss of home," said the report.
Several of the stronger churches have voiced criticism of "The Alleluia Fund for Outreach", arguing that it is poor stewardship. They think that the diocese is cutting its own outreach efforts and, therefore, providing a poor model for congregations.
The report also pointed up weak communications between the office and congregations despite various avenues available - web, digest, emails, Voice and mailings.
A significant number of churches feel that they had, within the past five years, "lost" something - lost members, lost community standing, lost income. –These churches also lost the most spiritually. While trying to engage the outside world in a new way, some struggle as to how to do that. There's a distinction between being a church and a social service agency.
The liquidation of fixed assets (churches) generated some heat with a new protocol defining net income as being held by the church/congregation in trust for the Diocese and may be deposited in the Diocesan Investment Trust (D.I. T.) with the stipulation that it be treated as a perpetual endowment. Annual distributions will be available to the congregation equal to the "Spending Rule" then in effect. (The "Spending Rule" will be 4% of a rolling average market value in 2011.) Withdrawals in excess of the amount indicated by the "Spending Rule" will need to be approved by the Standing Committee.
The Asset Allocation Policy states that 10% of net proceeds are to be given to the Diocese as a tithe, with the net proceeds from the sale of the surplus property to be deposited in the Diocesan Investment Trust.
2011 pledging to the diocese did increase by a modest $76,341 or 5.3%. The proposed budget calls for it to be increased by $117,335 (from the current, adjusted pledges) or 5.7%.
One observer told VOL that despite budgeting for a 4.7% increase in pledges to the diocese, the decline will only continue. "They are planning on using the funds from closed churches to employ a stewardship officer presumably to milk ever more money from the remaining declining membership. This is clearly a recipe for significant future declines in membership, and more closures. Maybe they need to re-look at their approach from the ground up, reduce head office costs, reduce the overheads of the massive salary costs for bishops, put the money back into the churches so they can afford clergy again and get back to a traditional reading of the gospel and stop all these strange innovations which is the only hope of restoring growth."
The diocese suffered serious decline under the heretical Bishop John Shelby Spong and the church's leading pansexual advocate Dr. Louie Crew. While the diocese and Spong garnered significant publicity for ordaining an AIDS ridden priest who later died, the diocese has not turned around under the slightly more moderate Mark Beckwith.
After all, who would want to join a church whose preaching, teaching and policies are indistinguishable from the culture?
The humor of God is that Spong and Crew might live to see the demise of their diocese as witnesses to the fact that heresy and sodomy are the twin sisters of spiritual destruction. You reap what you sow.
You can review the full report here: http://www.dioceseofnewark.org/dc/1012min.html
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