by Bruce Robison
Rector, St. Andrew’s, Highland Park, Pittsburgh
I would begin a first contribution in this space with a word of appreciation to the Nomination Committee of our Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh for the good work they have done in preparing our Diocesan Profile. It will be, I think, an excellent introduction to the life of our diocese for those who may be considering an invitation to be in the mix of the discernment that will lead to the election of our next bishop.
As Lionel and I have said in developing this space, the Profile also may be and should be a great catalyst for those of us here in the diocese who will be participating in this process not as nominees but as electors. It is vitally important that we have among ourselves, prayerfully and respectfully, a full and robust and out-in-the-open conversation about who we are, about how God is calling us to live, to minister, to grow—and about what is of value to us as we begin to consider the character and personality and particular gifts that we would hope to find in our next bishop.
In all that, I hope to be an occasional contributor to “Our Pittsburgh Diocese”—and I hope as well that there will be many contributions along the way, from many different contributors, to reflect the rich diversity of background and perspective and experience in our diocesan community.
And so I would begin here to say that two of the sections that caught my attention right away as I looked through the Profile are found on pages 11 and 12: “Our Diocese Today” and “The Clergy of the Diocese.” Two sections mostly statistical but I think compelling, fascinating, and well worth highlighting and pondering as we move forward together.
We talk about the numbers of parishes in our diocese, and about the numbers of clergy, and it is helpful to think about what this all really means “in real life,” about the state of things as they are. Church statistics are always a little slippery, to be sure, but they can be helpful as well, at least in a broad-brush way to communicate a feel for what things are like.
One traditional Episcopalian way to think about the settled ministry of a diocese is to think about parishes that are served full-time by priests compensated “at or above” the diocesan minimum compensation/benefits guidelines for full-time clergy.
In the old days, if a congregation couldn’t support a full-time priest at the diocesan minimum and pay full diocesan assessment, that congregation would be a “Mission” rather than a “Parish.”
In any event, while we don’t use that vocabulary here in Pittsburgh anymore, we would note that there were 13 priests fitting this definition at the time of the publication of the Profile, nearly half of whom (6) served in our three largest parishes. (The departure of Nate Rugh for Los Angeles this past summer would I think move the numbers—so we would say there are now 12 priests serving and compensated at full-time levels in the diocese, 5 of whom serve the three largest congregations.)
Another somewhat informal but familiar metric to assess congregational vitality in the Episcopal Church suggests that in terms of human and financial resources, congregations can reasonably attain and maintain a level of pastoral stability with an “average Sunday attendance” (ASA) of about 100 and a “normal operating income” of about $150,000. A full-time priest, somebody to play the organ on Sunday, maybe a part-time secretary or sexton, the ordinary infrastructure expenses, insurance, utilities, repairs and maintenance, and of course the inevitable diocesan assessment.
The statistics reported in the Diocesan Journal at our 2010 Diocesan Convention would indicate that there were in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, in 2009, 7 congregations reporting attendance and operating income above both these baseline figures—Calvary East Liberty, St. Paul’s Mount Lebanon, Christ North Hills, St. Michael’s Ligonier, St. Andrew’s Highland Park, St. Thomas Oakmont, and St. Stephen’s Mckeesport. (And we would note that while 2010 diocesan statistics have not yet been published, St. Stephen’s Mckeesport would no longer be counted in the group.) Three additional parishes—Brentwood, Franklin Park, and Homewood—reported 2009 income above $150,000, but ASA below 100. There is another small handful of parishes where the numbers in one category or the other are “close,” but not quite to the 100/$150K measures.
Approximately 1/3rd of our congregations reported for 2009 average Sunday attendance under 50, and about the same number report normal operating income under $50,000.
And finally, to note: the Profile reports, on page 11, that “the diocese spans 11 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania.” Of the 32 active congregations, though, it should be noted that more than half, 19, are in Allegheny County, 4 are in Westmorland County, 2 in Indiana County, 2 in Cambria County, 1 in Washington, 1 in Armstrong, and 1 in Somerset. In 4 of our 11 counties (Beaver, Butler, Fayette, and Greene) there is at the moment no Episcopal Church presence. To a considerable extent, of course, we would explain this by noting that following the division of the diocese in 2008, a number of “previously Episcopalian” congregations in these counties are now affiliated with the Anglican Diocese. But we do want to be sure that we’re all looking at the same map when we talk about who we are.
I want to highlight these kinds of general statistics not to be in any sense negative, but to be clear about just where it is that we are right now. We’re a pretty small diocese—2,500 or so people in Church on an average Sunday morning, and about half of those in 6 congregations or so and the other half spread out over the remaining 26.
With all that, this brief conclusion. I personally believe that there is significant opportunity for growth in many ways here in our diocese. We have some extraordinary human and material resources in our midst, and a lot of wonderful, creative, gifted people, lay and clergy.
But I have said to friends sometimes that I believe our next bishop should be a Jackson Kemper or a William Kipp—a true “missionary bishop" like those heroes of the 19th century Episcopal Church, riding on horseback from mission station to mission station along the frontier, gathering small clusters of folk together for Word and Sacrament—in church basements, perhaps, and sometimes in living rooms or coffee shops, putting things together in new and creative ways, on a shoestring—and developing in a patient and steady way over the next decade or so the human and material infrastructure we will need here for the future life and work of the Church.
Certainly not the kind of bishop who might try to focus attention thematically through staff and committees and various forms of corporate bureaucratic structure around the humming busyness of a diocesan office with “big visions” and complicated programs and a focus on systems management—but rather somebody who “gets” and even loves what life and ministry is like in small parishes without much money at hand, one who would spend most of his or her time out in the field, sleeves rolled-up, hands dirty, in a patient, steady ministry, “one-on-one,” of encouragement and evangelism and pastoral care.
So, here then: a first contribution to the conversation. Looking forward to reading more!