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The numbers game

January 7, 2011

One of the most annoying and persistent arguments in favor of the use of contemporary language in worship, and of unlimited and banal revisions to the Prayer Book, is that common English is “more accessible,” or “more user-friendly,” or more “welcoming” than the poetry and cadence inherited from Thomas Cranmer. This argument insists that everyone likes Rite II, and that no one responds to the good stuff, which is best consigned to the dustbin. The corollary belief – that only the most forgettable musical pap is suitable for worship – is too stupid even to mention (although we have).

But after some research, the facts may speak for themselves. An examination of the Church’s attendance figures severely discredits the idea that average Episcopalians and the average Joe seek only happy-clappy, hand-holding, let’s-cry-together worship. Of the 30 best-attended Episcopal churches in the United States, 13 (43%) use Rite I at their main Sunday service. These 13 include 40% of the Episcopal Church’s ten largest and best-attended parishes. This is no small minority. Evidently, there remains a healthy need for worship of majesty and grace, which speaks of a God beyond comprehension and glorious in power, a God larger than your small problems, a God of such power to redeem you, and with you the world.

The Numbers1
1.
St Martin’s Church, Houston, Tex.
Diocese of Texas
Avg Sunday attendance: 1,925
Main Sunday service: HC I.
Family service (9:00am) alternates HC I with MP I.

5.
Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Dallas, Tex.
Diocese of Dallas
Avg Sunday attendance: 1,413
Main Sunday service: HC I.

7.
St. Andrew’s Church, Mount Pleasant, S.C.2
Diocese of South Carolina
Avg Sunday attendance: 1,328
Main Sunday service: HC I or MP I.

8.
Church of St. John the Divine, Houston, Tex.
Diocese of Texas
Avg Sunday attendance: 1,301
Main Sunday service: HC I

13.
Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, Tex.
Diocese of Dallas
Avg Sunday attendance: 1,060
Main Sunday service: HC I or MP I

14.
Cathedral Church of the Advent, Birmingham, Ala.
Diocese of Alabama
Avg Sunday attendance: 1,041.
Main Sunday service: HC I or MP I

17.
Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, S.C.
Diocese of Upper South Carolina
Avg Sunday attendance: 919
Main Sunday service: HC I

19.
Christ Church, Greenville, S.C.
Diocese of Upper South Carolina
Avg Sunday attendance: 897
Main Sunday service: HC I or MP I

22.
St. David’s Church, Austin, Tex.
Diocese of Texas
Avg Sunday attendance: 846
Main Sunday service: HC I

23.
All Souls’ Church, Oklahoma City, Ok.
Diocese of Oklahoma
Avg Sunday attendance: 839
Main Sunday service: HC I

24.
Church of the Holy Cross, Sullivan’s Island, S.C.
Diocese of South Carolina
Avg Sunday attendance: 825
Main Sunday service: HC I

26.
St. Thomas Church, New York, N.Y.
Diocese of New York
Avg Sunday attendance: 820
Main Sunday service: HC I

30.
Church of the Redeemer, Sarasota, Fla.
Diocese of Southwest Florida
Avg Sunday attendance: 767
Main Sunday service: HC I


1. Figures from the Unofficial Anglican Pages of Louie Crew, a valuable resource.
2. Voted to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church, March 2010.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. will permalink
    February 26, 2011 03:28

    I”m not sure I like the equation big congregation=successful congregation, or even “what the people want”. There are people who like megachurches and will all join the biggest one, and those who don’t and spread themselves out among smaller congregations. Big churches are unusual in an Episcopal context, and may appeal to an atypical crowd.

    • February 26, 2011 08:35

      I will confess: I don’t disagree, and moreover you have made my point better than I could have. If “what the people want” cannot be inferred from congregation size, then ALL arguments that rely on numbers to justify liturgical choices are deeply suspect, whether those numbers give us Rite II or whether they lead to Cranmer.

  2. January 23, 2012 05:20

    I would enjoy seeing the numbers of all Episcopal Churches – and what percentage are Rite 1. We are a small congregation in Baltimore (St. John’s in The Village) and have regular attendance of maybe 30-40ppl. We have the luxury of a professional (paid) choir and lean toward old style, and high form. I so agree with your phrase about the poetry, cadence and power contained in Rite 1. (not to mention I seem to “think” about it more with some of the old phrases. I do agree with Will, the smaller churches appeal to me, and communion taken with “my” fellow worshipers seems more intimate and special because I know almost everyone by name. I wonder if you wouldnt find the percentage even higher when including all churches.

    • January 23, 2012 08:58

      Brad: I too would be interested to know, and I hope that we would find it higher as well when the whole of the church is taken into account. I too consider a small parish (St. Peter’s, Lithgow, in Millbrook, N.Y.) home, and although it’s old style, low form, the whole undertaking is characterized by the solemn dignity of Rite I, which is a great luxury. Indeed for a small church, Cranmer’s words lend a gravitas to the simple, spoken worship of a country parish, as indeed they have been (in our case) since 1801.

      I must also say, I hope by now that it has become obvious how much we who write this blog admire St. John’s in the Village. It is in so many ways the model of a parish church, and we wish you all Godspeed. I very much look forward to an eventual visit.

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