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A Slow-Motion Implosion

A time of deep soul-searching is fast approaching for Christianity. It should come as no surprise that the past few decades have been particularly difficult ones for institutional churches and ecclesial communions, which have struggled to attract new members and retain old ones. The situation has grown so grim in the Anglican Communion that one of its elder statesmen, Lord George Carey, a former archbishop of Canterbury, warned recently that the Church of England (C of E) is “one generation away from extinction.” At a November 2013 conference, Lord Carey said that Anglicans should be “ashamed” of themselves for not “investing in young people.”

His sentiments were echoed by prominent Anglican columnist A.N. Wilson, who wrote in London’s Telegraph (Nov. 19, 2013) that in each of the more than ten C of E parishes he visited over the preceding year, he had the same experience. “At the age of 63,” he said, “I have been the youngest person present by 20 years. The congregation has seldom numbered double figures. The C of E is a moribund institution kept going by and for old people.”

Things are equally dire in the Church of England’s U.S. counterpart, the Episcopal Church (TEC). As reported in “Incredible Shrinking Churches” (New Oxford Notes, Dec. 2011), since 2003 TEC has lost over three hundred thousand members. According to research conducted by David Virtue, a veteran analyst of all things Anglican, nearly one-third of all Episcopal parishes are populated by parishioners in their mid-60s, with virtually no young people to fill the gap. Virtue predicts that in a quarter century, “there will no longer be anyone attending an Episcopal Church.”

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