Chicago Area Episcopal church closing its doors

Posted by Kendall Harmon

129-year-old Episcopal congregation on the South Side will be disbanded after worship Sunday.

Attendance at the Episcopal Church of the Mediator, which is in the Beverly/Morgan Park area, has declined to about 30 people. At its peak, it had 250 members, church leaders said.

"It's been coming," said Mary Reich, a parish leader. "You can't run a parish on 30 people. Most of our members are over age 55."

The final service will be at 9 a.m. Sunday at the church, 10961 S. Hoyne. After worship and a time of socializing, a letter from the bishop of the Chicago Episcopal Diocese will be read.

The Rev. Michael Stephenson, a diocesan official, said the letter officially "secularizes" the building. Future use of the property will be determined by the bishop, he said.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Parishes

Posted December 27, 2007 at 5:38 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Newbie Anglican wrote:

Of course, the Diocese of Chicago has been rather “secularized” for years.

December 27, 10:20 pm | [comment link]
2. robroy wrote:

The website is here. At the bottom, they have a rainbow flag with the “All are welcome!” line. More evidence that “full inclusion” is a lethal toxin to a church.

The statistics are here. Also evidence that if one gives away the sacred to those who haven’t asked for it, nobody wants it. (Paraphrase of Bonhoeffer.)

December 27, 11:01 pm | [comment link]
3. USMA74 wrote:

The Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas “retires” churches - he doesn’t close them.

After 45 years, doors of St. Philip’s, Topeka to close
By Melodie Woerman   Editor, The Harvest

A lot has happened in the 45 years since St. Philip’s was founded to serve the needs of people in southeast Topeka — baptisms, weddings and funerals; Eucharists and prayer-and-praise services; an ordination or two; potluck suppers, Sunday school classes and Christmas pageants; ups and downs in membership numbers; and priests and lay people passing through three buildings that framed the life of an Episcopal congregation.

All that comes to a close Nov. 18, when the congregation conducts its final services and locks the doors for the last time.

St. Philip’s is closing.

The decision to cease operations came this summer in a rapid turn of events that left the vestry with few options, they said. A just-big-enough budget took major hits with the terminal illness of one major pledger and an out-of-state move by another, reducing income by about 10 percent.

When big insurance premiums were paid in July, the parish was left with only $18 in its operating account. The vestry said they made what to them was the only practical decision available — to close the doors.

Bishop Dean Wolfe met with the vestry and Finance Committee in mid-August. He heard from them that rumblings of financial troubles first appeared in May but reached a crescendo in July.

He also heard of a parish that struggled with too few people to offer programs to attract new members, averaging about 25 people on Sunday. With only one child under age 13, Sunday school was virtually impossible.

Vestry members spoke again and again about this lack of a critical mass of people and of the unsuccessful attempts to grow that were tried in the past.

One member said, “We’ve been like a cat with nine lives, financially, and now we’re out of ideas.”

“We’re out of people, too,” another said.

Treasurer Jim Peters noted that income has been declining in recent years as the congregation has aged, but costs for insurance, maintenance and utilities have kept going up. “There’s just no place to cut,” he said.

The Rev. Kay Dagg has served as vicar of the congregation for three years on a very part-time basis while also working as a teacher in a public middle school. Her modest salary represented only a portion of the budget.

Bishop Wolfe asked vestry members to describe the character of St. Philip’s. He heard words like warm, loving, comfortable, acceptance, family, presence of God.

“But we need a dignified death,” one member said.

While for Christians death is not failure but the ultimate healing, Bishop Wolfe said, perhaps the parish should think of its closing in a different way — as retirement. “This parish has served faithfully for a number of years, and now you can lay your burden down,” he said. “It doesn’t die, because all the members will still live, but the parish can retire, and we can celebrate all it has done.”

Final services on Nov. 18

The parish will have its final regular 9 a.m. Sunday service on Nov. 18 and is inviting former members to attend this “family reunion” celebration. A potluck supper will follow the service.

At 3 p.m. Bishop Wolfe will be present for a diocesanwide service to celebrate four-and-a-half decades of ministry by the people and clergy of St. Philip’s. Priests who have been part of the parish’s life are especially invited, and a reception will follow.

Deacon Annie Hedquist has been part of St. Philip’s, as a member and deacon, for many years. She said, “There have been many more blessings than failures. We have every reason to be proud of what St. Philip’s has been.”

Bishop Wolfe said of the parish’s actions, “I was impressed and deeply moved by the work the leadership of St. Philip’s has done regarding this issue. They have been exceedingly faithful, utilizing limited resources to their very utmost. The honest way they have dealt with declining membership, and their desire to use the resources that are left to build up the Church, are a legacy to the many years of faithful ministry of that parish.

“While we have closed and merged parishes in the last several years, it is important to remember that the diocese is growing in numbers. I’m also certain these faithful members of St. Philip’s will have fruitful ministries in the churches they join.”

After Nov. 18 the St. Philip’s property at 38th and California Streets in southeast Topeka will revert to the diocese’s ownership, and it will be made available for sale to a suitable buyer. Bishop Wolfe said proceeds from the sale will be used to support new church start-ups in the diocese.

December 28, 2:50 am | [comment link]
4. robroy wrote:

Bp Wolfe states, “While we have closed and merged parishes in the last several years, it is important to remember that the diocese is growing in numbers.” Someone needs tell the bishop his reading the graph upside down. The statistics for the diocese of Kansas are here. Perhaps he means the slight up tick in 2006 after the precipitous drop in 2005. Membership plummeting since 2003 and ASA tanking since 2001. Giving down as well. No, Bp Wolfe there is no Santa Claus and all is not well.

December 28, 8:04 am | [comment link]
5. Sarah1 wrote:

Rob Roy—I believe that when you point out cold hard facts like that, it can only be characterized as “cruel” and “divisive.”

RobRoy, please stop being “divisive.”

; > )

December 28, 10:40 am | [comment link]
6. robroy wrote:

I’ll try to behave in the future ;^)

USMA74, I wrote the Topeka newsletter about the bishop’s “strayings” from the truth about the diocese’s health. Have you? Have you emailed all your friends with the quote from the bishop and the diocesan statistics. The contrast is quite stark and speaks for itself. The official mouthpieces are singing lullabies the slumbering masses. We need to circumvent this.

It is crazy that the liberal leadership make statements that are so easily shown to be false. They simply assume that they won’t be caught in the lie. As a physician, I value my credibility, my integrity like a prize jewel. In contrast, the revisionists throw it away for mere convenience.

December 28, 10:54 am | [comment link]
7. TonyinCNY wrote:

Signs of the future: pecusa closing churches, Common Cause planting them (and the question still remains unanswered: why is it that as pecusa becomes more inclusive pecusa she also becomes smaller?).

December 28, 5:53 pm | [comment link]
8. robroy wrote:

One should check out the letter that Bp Wolfe of Kansas after the September HoB meeting. It is entitled “THE SKY STILL ISN’T FALLING” and mocks those eensy-weensy minority stating there is a problem, calling them “chicken littles.” Found here:

December 28, 7:10 pm | [comment link]
9. D. C. Toedt wrote:

TonyInCNY [#7], mainline churches are losing members in large part because 1) more and more Americans and Europeans simply do not believe the things traditional Christianity tells them they must believe to be a “Christian,” and 2) the mainline churches don’t have persuasive counters for that unbelief.  Think about it: Atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc., wouldn’t be selling nearly as many books if they weren’t striking a chord with a lot of already-doubtful people.

Most religious bodies are not unlike manufacturers of old-time patent medicines. Some patent medicines apparently do work, at least some of the time. The problem is, you’re never really sure what will work when — or why it does.

In the case of patent medicines, the public became more aware of the lack of evidentiary support for many of the manufacturers’ claims.  Sales dropped, sometimes dramatically (in the case of dangerous products forced off the market by the FDA), other times gradually (how big a market for Geritol do you suppose there is these days?).

Traditional churches are in danger of going down the same road as patent-medicine manufacturers. Conventional religious nostrums sometimes work just as advertised, dramatically transforming people’s lives. The problem again is, we never really know what’s going to work when — or why.

Sure, some traditional churches are still in business; so is Geritol. Some churches are even growing; but so too (it would seem from all the Smiling Bob TV commercials) is the market for Enzyte “natural male enhancement” pills; popularity is not always a reliable indicator of truth.

December 28, 7:42 pm | [comment link]
10. robroy wrote:

D.C. argues we need to be even more secularly swayed. That certainly worked for the United Church of Canada and United Church of Christ. It certainly is working well in Europe. These churches are much more modern, not mired in old fashioned theology!

December 28, 8:44 pm | [comment link]
11. D. C. Toedt wrote:

Robroy [#10], I’m arguing just the opposite. Some patent medicines are efficacious; by zeroing in on the active ingredient in willow bark, Bayer developed aspirin and has made a ton of money with it. In the case of churches, the ‘active ingredient’ is of course the Summary of the Law. Churches need to ‘reformulate their products’ to focus on that active ingredient, and stop trying to sell ‘good for what ails ya’ nostrums that are only hurting sales. (I just finished writing up this thought in more detail here.)

December 28, 9:26 pm | [comment link]
12. robroy wrote:

If one is distilling one’s compound to active and efficacious ingredients, it is also helpful to remove poisons from whatever snake oils that one is hawking. “Inclusivity” is such a poison. No church can survive it. (Evidence to the contrary?)

The Episcopal church with all its smells and bells was growing nicely until it took a hard turn to the left at the turn of this new millennium. The 20/20 goal seemed feasible in 1998.

December 28, 9:34 pm | [comment link]
13. Jeffersonian wrote:

Dear TEC:

Include me out.


December 28, 10:20 pm | [comment link]
14. azusa wrote:

# 11 - you keep banging that broken drum about ‘the summary of the Law’. Who needs a ‘church’ for such an etiolated understanding of the Gospel? A living relationship with the divine-human Lord Jesus Christ, incarnated, crucified abnd resurrected for us - is the essence of the Gospel - and the essential prerequisite for understanding the Law.

December 29, 5:54 am | [comment link]
15. azusa wrote:

#11: Now I have had a look at your site and I have to ask: why do you bother? The ‘Jesus’ you claim to follow seems very much like the product of 19th century imagination, like Renan et al, before Schweitzer blew that image apart (not that I agree with his conclusions either). You don’t ‘question’ enough!

December 29, 6:14 am | [comment link]
16. D. C. Toedt wrote:

The Gordian [#14, 15], if you think emphasizing the Summary of the Law is banging a broken drum, you must not remember Luke 10.25-37, in which Jesus is reported to have said, do this — follow the Summary of the Law — and you will live [eternally].

And no, one doesn’t need a church to do that, nor is “a living relationship with the divine-human Lord Jesus Christ” a prerequisite to understanding it; that kind of thinking is a new form of pharisaism, or perhaps of gnosticism.

Thanks for visiting my blog; I’d be curious about your answers to the questions I pose here and here. Don’t be like a patent-medicine manufacturer who refuses to accept that people might have legitimate questions about his product, and at the same time is mystified why his sales have been gradually dropping.

December 29, 9:21 am | [comment link]
17. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

I have not examined your site in depth, D.C., but I was disturbed about your too-brief entry, “Beliefs need to evolve.”

With Gordian, I would “question” the banging of the drum of the “summary of the Law,” and invite you to “question” whether this is even a proper definition. Paul is quite clear that a narrow focus on following the Law does not lead us to Christ. If the Law does not lead us the Christ, why would a watered-down “summary” lead us there?

I submit that your whole identification of this scripture passage (engendered, it is true, from your Episcopal roots) is incorrect, or at least incomplete. These life-saving words of Jesus are not a “summary of the Law.” They are, instead, the Great Commandment, and the one like it. Jesus did not say that these words were a “summary” of the law. He said that these words were the BASIS for the law:

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Relying on a “summary of the Law” leads one back to the Old Testament rules and regulations, and sorting out which ones apply to Christians, etc. It becomes a minimalist approach to Christianity: “Do this, and you’ll be all right.”

Relying on the Great Commandment leads one into a maximalist approach to Christianity: “Dedicate the love of all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your mind, to the Lord your God. Love him with all of your being, so much that there is room for nothing else. Then everything that you are and everything that you do will flow from that love, and you will be like Jesus.

If you endeavor to follow the Ten Commandments, you will be tempted to behave as if you are seeking a humanly possible achievement. If you endeavor to follow the Great Commandment, you will be acutely aware that you are seeking an achievement that is impossible without God in your life.

December 29, 10:12 am | [comment link]
18. D. C. Toedt wrote:

Br’er Rabbit [#17] writes: “Paul is quite clear that a narrow focus on following the Law does not lead us to Christ. If the Law does not lead us the Christ, why would a watered-down “summary” lead us there?”

First, Paul didn’t necessarily get it right about the inefficaciousness of the Law. We know now that in some cases, behavior can condition belief, because over time people can sometimes internalize values to which they outwardly conform.

Second, and more importantly, the goal isn’t to be led to Christ, it’s to be led to God. The scriptural evidence clearly indicates that the apostles didn’t regard the two as one and the same.

December 29, 10:44 am | [comment link]
19. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

D.C. #18 writes:

Paul didn’t necessarily get it right…

D.C., here is where you and I part company. Since we clearly have differing opinions about the truth and reliability of Scripture, we have no common basis on which to come to conclusions about what Scripture bids us do. I see no point in continuing this discussion.

December 29, 11:18 am | [comment link]
20. D. C. Toedt wrote:

Br_er Rabbit [#19]: “I have great sympathy with David Pailin when he says that ‘Attempts to defend theism by ignoring the question of truth … are fundamentally atheistic. They worship human wishes rather than ultimate reality.’”  (Rev. Dr. John C. Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS, The Faith of a Physicist, Fortress Press paperback ed., ch. 2, p. 30.)

December 29, 11:41 am | [comment link]
21. Tom Roberts wrote:

BR wasn’t “defend[ing] theism”.

December 29, 11:46 am | [comment link]
22. D. C. Toedt wrote:

For “theism,” substitute “Scripture,” or really anything you want; the assertion is the same.

December 29, 11:58 am | [comment link]
23. Albany* wrote:

In point of fact there are people who seem to be good at this matter of growing churches. They are frequently not those who think they are such people, however. A responsible Diocese would identify such people and send them with prayer and faithful resources to rescue the sweat and blood of this perishing parish. Of course, in real life, the more “marginal” the parish becomes the more likely they are to be sent the free-floating diocesan looney of the moment. Not always, but usually.

December 29, 12:05 pm | [comment link]
24. Tom Roberts wrote:

#22- the form of argument is the same. Your assertion, as opposed to your citation’s, are far from similar. In saying that they are, you trivialize your argument.

December 29, 12:08 pm | [comment link]
25. Choir Stall wrote:

Full inclusion isn’t the toxin. Lack of identity and clarity is.  TEC has become an encounter group rather than a radically welcoming yet conversion-oriented Church. TEC has leaned so far in to listen to the culture that we have fallen in.  As long as the bishops are elected for life and the laity do not control diocesan nominations we will continue to see the malaise. The Methodists have an alternative:
bishops are elected for life but serve no more than 8 years in any jurisdiction. The jurisdictions have an episcopal placement committee that moves them around. Remember: bishops are like manure. Pile them up in one place and they start to stink. Spread them out and move them around and they might help something grow.

December 29, 1:00 pm | [comment link]
26. Albany* wrote:

“Full inclusion isn’t the toxin. Lack of identity and clarity is.  TEC has become an encounter group rather than a radically welcoming yet conversion-oriented Church.”

A thought worth repeating.

As for bishops, they must be real and that means they must guard and lead. The Methodist model is not episcopacy in any historic sense. The crisis in Anglicanism might be described as the crisis of episcopacy. We don’t know how else to run but by actual faithful bishops—nor should we—but they have vanished and we know it.  In a very real sense, it’s quite proper that we [the “ordinary” faithful] don’t know what to do. It’s like asking the kids to take over the daycare.

December 29, 2:20 pm | [comment link]
27. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

What a joy to come upon this thread and discover the NRAFC so ably reprsented by robroy (President, posts #2, 4, 8, 10, 12) and Br_er Rabbit (V-P, posts #17, 19).  Way to go, guys!  You nailed it.

In checking out the church website, I found this telling line as part of their Mission Statement:  “We are a diverse congregation [that always makes me suspicious when I hear the buzz word “diverse” invoked favorably] and we seek to reach out to everyone aound us regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION.”  Put that together with the rainbow flag, as noted by robroy, and you can guess that “inclusivity” is indeed part of the message they are keen on promoting. 

And did you notice the big drop in attendance and giving from 2003 to 2004?  For example, it looks like baptized members dropped from over 100 to around 75 in just one year.  Now there may well be other reasons for this than what happened in Minneapolis in 2003 (maybe they cleaned out their rolls), but it does make you wonder, doesn’t it?  Thanks for providing the links, robroy.  Good spadework.

Let me provide a little anecdotal evidence regarding decline in the Diocese of Chicago.  In the mid 1990s, I was seleted by a diocesan search committe as the prime candidate for a position as a church planter in a booming suburb on the south side of Chicago, Orland Park.  The interstate beltway was just going in about then through there, and the population was exploding.  The demographics were out of this world, huge numbers of affluent, younger families with excellent educations moving in, i.e., ideal prospects for a suburban Episcopal Church.  Enough to make any would-be church planter just drool.

I won’t go into the details, but to make a long story short, even though I was the ONLY candidate they called in for interviews in that round (in a nation-wide search for promising church planters), the search committee and I soon discovered that we had totally incompatible visions for that new church.  I envisioned a large regional church coming out of these ideal conditions, they only saw the potential for a small neighborhood church (they’d already bought a 5 acre plot buried on a residential side-street).  The Diocese of Chicago hadn’t planted a new church in 15 years, and they were skittish and lacked confidence about it.  I argued that they should expect to have a church with 1000 in ASA (not membership, average Sunday attendance) in 10-15 years.  They thought I was CRAZY (and maybe I was!).  They also quickly realized I was rabidly conservative, and that made them extremely uncomfortable.  I didn’t get the job.

Now here’s the interesting part.  They called someone else who tried to build that little neightborhood church, and it flopped after a few years.  The diocese pulled the plug after it was clear that the new church would continue to be a drain on the diocesan budget since the new church was going nowhere.  Incredible!  The demographics were to die for, and the new church sank like a stone, never got off the ground. 

Now the fun part (or the sad part, it makes you either laugh or cry).  This past April I attended a national church planters’ conference in Orlando.  Hundreds of young, zealous evangelical church planter wanna bes running around (virtually no Episcopalians, except for a bunch representing the ACN).  I met a guy who had planted an evangelical church right there in Orland Park, the same year that I would have started if I’d been chosen.  His church took off like a sky rocket.  In the same booming suburb where the TEC church plant totally failed, guess how large that new evangelical church was?  You ready for this?  Guess high.  No higher yet.

Answer, after just five years, that brand new evangelical church was averaging 5,000 in Sunday attendance!  That’s right.  From 0 to 5,000 ASA in just 5 years!!  And the liberal TEC plant didn’t even survive 5 years.  Same demographics.  Totally different results.

Hmmm.  I wonder why??

David Handy+
Co-founder of the Commission on Church Planting for the Diocese of Virginia

December 29, 10:34 pm | [comment link]
28. DietofWorms wrote:


That is a very noteworthy story! 

I hope you are writing down all the experiences you have had, so we can learn from them.


January 1, 2:17 pm | [comment link]
29. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

#28, Diet of Worms,

How can I not respond favorably to someone with a screen name like that??  Thanks for the kind words.  So, with your encouragement ringing in my ears, I’ll share one other very revealing incident from that same interview experience. 

But first, I should take this chance to make an important correction of a factual error in my prior post.  I realize now that I was off on just how fast that evangelical church grew in Orland Park.  It took TEN years, not five, for it to grow from zero to 5,000 in ASA.  I think that’s plenty dramatic enough, without doubling the already miraculous growth rate.  Sorry, about the mistake (memory lapse).

Now for the other revealing incident.  My interview took place after Frank Griswold was elected PB, and so I can’t say for sure if he had approved the art display I’m about to describe or not.  Anyway, the interview for the church planting position took place at the diocesan headquarters in downtown Chicago.  I got there quite early, and so started looking around the large lobby area.  As best I can recall (and this shows why you’re right that I need to put these kinds of things down on paper before they all get fuzzy), there were 8 to 12 brand new icons set up for display there.  But when I started inspecting them, I quickly was dismayed.  All the icons were of either two men or two women.  And all were figures that were assumed to be gay or lesbian!  One of the icons was of David and Jonathan.  And another was of the great John Henry Newman and one of the brothers in the Oratory of St. Philip Neri he was friends with.  Ugh!  Outrageous.  Needless to say, that deeply disturbing sight (that almost made my stomach turn) filled me with foreboding as I prepared to walk in for the interview.

I was interviewed by three people, a male priest and two lay females, who were supposed to be especially well read about the topic of church planting.  It was a three-hour interview.  About an hour into it, the priest asked me a question that I’d been expecting but dreading.  In as casual a manner as he could feign, he asked if I had seen the icon display downstairs in the lobby.  I said I had and didn’t volunteer anything more.  He followed up with, “Well, what did you think of it?”

At that point, I decided that it was my chance to interview them, and I might as well just go for broke and put all my cards out on the table and not hide anything.  Now mind you, as I reported earlier, I was the ONLY candidate called in for interviews for this DREAM position.  Like I said, this golden opportunity to plant a new church where the demographics were to die for was extremely appealing.  Yet I knew that I could very well run afoul of whoever the new bishop of Chicago turned out to be, if he was half as liberal as Frank Griswold.  And the first hour of the 3 hour interview had already told me that this interview team was pretty liberal too.

In other words, I had a momentous choice to make.  Should I downplay my strident opposition to the pro-gay cause in the hopes of landing this plum job, or should I run my orthodox flag up the flagpole and see what happened?  What would you do?

Well, I decided (for better or worse) to just be myself.  Let Handy be Handy, and let the chips fall where they may.  So, in answer to the priest’s probing question about the icons, I did a very Martin Luther like thing.  I replied, “Well, to be frank, I just about hurried up to the receptionist and asked her, ‘Please, can you point me toward the bathroom, I think I’m going to throw up!’”

Yep.  I really did that.  You could hear a pin drop.  Dead silence for the longest time.  And all four of us knew at that moment that the interview was over.  Sure it went on for another 2 hours, but it was over.  We all knew how it was going to turn out.

And honestly, I don’t regret it.  As many readers of T19 know, the man elected to take Frank Griswold’s place was William Persell, a hard-nosed unrepentant liberal if there ever was one.  He and I would NEVER have gotten along.  But every once in a while, I can’t help but dream and wonder… hmmm. if only a conservative had been elected bishop, what could I have done with an ideal church planting set up like that?  Heck, even a moderate…

If an evangelical new church in those fast-growth conditions can go from 0 to 5,000 in ten years, why can’t a charismatic, evangelical, catholic TEC church go from 0 to 1,000 ASA n 15 years?  I still see no reason whatsoever that it couldn’t have happened, except that the whole reputation of the Episcopal Church in that area was so extremely liberal that it would have been like a salmon swimming upstream, leaping small waterfalls along the way, to overcome that public image.  But hey, the salmon do it.  They somehow make it back to their spawning grounds far upstream.  Why can’t we?

Final note, purely personal.  When I got home and told my wife about the interview, she reacted like many of you reading this presumably did.  Although she knows me so well, she couldn’t help rolling her eyes and saying, “Please tell me you didn’t really say that!  I thought you WANTED that job!”

Looking back on it, I’m sort of surprised I was so brash and brazen myself.  But hey, that’s the David Handy style (rushing in where angels fear to tread, as the saying goes).  That’s why I’m “New Reformation Advocate.”  And it also goes a long way toward explaining why I’ve never yet gotten a church planting job in TEC.

Now, robroy, see what you’ve started?  I’ve just blown my cover for real this time.

David Handy+
Now dreaming of launching a whole movement dedicated to creating a new style of High Commitment, Post-Christendom, “3-D” orthodox Anglicanism, and not merely starting a new parish.

January 1, 3:38 pm | [comment link]
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