Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Epic Statistical Fail

The Studying Your Congregation and Community tables have been updated for 2009, and the next phase of departures can now be assessed (at least for the patient and dogged) for the effect on church numbers.

Except that they can't.

If you pull up the chart for the Diocese of San Joaquin, yes, it is still almost entirely gone. Pittsburgh also has dropped precipitously. The charts for Fort Worth and Quincy, however, don't look that different: Ft. Worth ASA shows a maybe 30% ASA decline, while Quincy shows a tiny increase. OK, what's going on here?

Well, the answer is that there is apparently a large scale pattern of misrepresentation if not outright fraud. Let's work with Ft. Worth, which in 2008 had 55 parishes. Well, looking through the charts, only 17 parishes show changes in reported numbers between 2008 and 2009, and there are only a couple more which show changes in reporting between 2007 and 2009. They are simply repeating the old values rather than acknowledging that the other parishes no longer count themselves as ECUSA congregations.

Of the seventeen that do show changes, only one does not show a loss from 2008 to 2009, and all show losses from 2007. Only three do not appear in ACNA Ft. Worth's list of parishes, and these three have relatively small losses (13%, 25%, and a gain of 11%). There are three other apparently contested parishes with relatively small losses (9%, 20%, and 35%). Every other parish lost at least 60% of its attendance, with the worst case going from 94 to 2 ASA, a loss of 98%.

Taken together these parishes have a combined ASA of 970, down from 2218 in 2008 for a loss of 56%. If one assumes that all the other parishes haven't reported numbers because they are no longer part of the ECUSA diocese, then given a reported 2008 ASA of 6945 (and this number isn't really accurate, because few parishes reported a change in ASA between 2007 and 2008) the drop in ASA was not around 30%, but in excess of 85%. It's a good thing that Ft. Worth is a relatively small diocese, because the loss I compute is 0.8% of total domestic ASA.

One hopes that there is a good (read, canonical and longstanding) reason for this kind of reportage. I'm told that the three phantom parishes in LA are still on the books, and one is led to suspect that there are others that haven't been checked. And of course, there's also Quincy, which at an ASA of 935 in 2008 isn't going to be sending statistical shockwaves out when its reporting is rectified, but still, it all adds up.

The diocesan numbers have now been released, and at least one of the peculiarities has been remedied: numbers for Ft. Worth now show departures. The Quincy numbers have also been updated, but they show little change from the previous year. I will have more analysis in a separate post.

On the Aging of Clergy

Over at The Lead in the Episcopal Cafe, we are pointed to an interesting table from the 2009 Clergy Compensation Report. Now there are some other curious numbers, such as why men are paid better than women except in curate positions, or my associates in Province VI are paid so poorly compared to those in other dioceses.

Table 5, however, offers the opportunity to recover some other demographics, if one is willing to indulge in a few suppositions, because it reports how many clergy are in each of four age brackets, and it breaks this down by gender. Now as Laura Toepfer points out in the comments, the clergy in each age range includes both those ordained at an earlier age and those newly ordained; therefore by making a few assumptions we can work out the ages at which clergy are ordained. The assumptions are actually pretty dubious on one level, but I believe that the likely errors tend to reduce the effects I am about to describe, so I'm not too unhappy about making then.

The central assumption is that the flow of people into each of the groups is constant, so that I can assume that the number of people ordained at a given age in the past is the same as it is now. This assumption, over the very long haul, isn't true, but when I say "long haul" we're talking before my lifetime: the pattern that is going to appear fits what I knew about ordination patterns back when I was in college. The second assumption is that people don't die or quit young. Again, this is a bad assumption, but the degree to which it is false will blunt the pattern, so it won't hurt to make it. The third assumption is that deaths and retirements in the last group are balanced by ordinations and aging into it. This is also dubious, but the likely error is in the direction of blunting the pattern, so again I'm not too concerned about this.

Using these assumptions, I can get the number of people ordained in each age range by subtracting out the number of people in the previous range from the number of people in the current range. Normalizing this over the these new quantities, we get the following:

Age groupMenWomenTotal
under 3515%15%15%
over 5539%38%39%

One result of this is very striking: only about a quarter of all ECUSA clergy are ordained before age 45, and over a third are ordained after age 55. I have a hard time imagining that this pattern obtains for any but mainline churches, and probably not even for most of them. It's impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Episcopal priesthood is, for most, a second career or even a post-retirement hobby.

And that conclusion is reinforced by the second pattern: the decided drop in women ordained in the 35-45 age bracket. Either a lot more women are reluctant to abandon careers in that age group, or child-rearing interferes with starting the ordination path. (I would note, BTW, that discernment processes, seminary and transitional diaconates apply about a five year bias to these numbers in terms of when people actually make their decisions to start.)

Of course one has to allow for the possibility that the Holy Spirit likes it this way. But there are plenty of reasons to suspect that economic realities and diocesan policies are likely contributors. Having to largely go without pay for several years surely accounts for much of the dip in the 35-45 bracket: unless a spouse can support the family themselves, people with families to support are unlikely to be able to afford to drop everything, especially with the risk of being dropped from the process and having to pick up the pieces of their lives. Kids fresh out of college lack the obligations, but there has been a historic pattern of discouraging them as being insufficiently mature. So instead we see people waiting until the kids are old enough or indeed out on their own. In any case this presents a very different picture of the priesthood and how it is to be lived, when it is not a primary profession, but a second stage in life. And it creates a very strong bias towards a priesthood whose peers are older. One has to wonder how much this affects the causes espoused by those clergy, who are so much older than the population as a whole.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Campaign

The level of rancor directed at the pope on the occasion of the his visit to England (including the beatification of John Newman) should, I suppose, be unsurprising. But then again, it should be surprising, because it is reprehensible. Perhaps he and Rowan Williams should feel a kinship as being, at heart, theologians who are cast into political struggles to which they are not naturally drawn.

The picture of Benedict as a tyrant is obviously false. It's clear that he wants to right a lot of what he sees are wrongs and abuses that have developed over the years; his vigor in pursuing this, however, is less than dictatorial. But for some reason it is important that the pope be this malevolent, cruel, heartless, fundamentalist tyrant, so that this what he is, at least when he is written about in the secular media. The level of dislike for him is wildly disproportionate.

So here we have Garry Wills misrepresenting a nine year old address by the then-cardinal, and here we have Jim Naughton commending the attack. I defy anyone, in a few minutes, to read what Ratzinger actually said in a few minutes and come up with a coherent and succinct summary of his views re Newman. The passage is subtle, complex, and highly nuanced; it is the address of a deep-thinking theologian meditating on one of his equals if not superiors. Wills's reduction of Newman to a dissident is absolutely wrong, and Naughton's commendation of this reduction is equally wrong.

But it is worse than just wrong, because Naugtton is, after all, an agent of the ecclesiastical establishment, not a dissident. So just two posts earlier in Episcopalian Cafe, he mounts an attack on the character of Dan Martins, bishop-elect in the Diocese of Springfield, which it is hard to characterize as anything other than a deliberate misrepresentation of what Martins said. And you can hear exactly what he said, or go from there to a copy of the remarks as he intended to say them, and you can see and hear for yourself that Naughton's claim of what Martins found shameful simply isn't true.

The posturing in the remarks on Naughton's post is, as usual, quite routine and tiresome, with plenty of powerful people bemoaning the rebuke to their acts. What is more striking to me is how this fits into a long pattern of Naughton serving as an agent of agitation for the liberal establishment. Naughton is, you may recall, the person behind publicizing the Chapman memo and trying to raise the alarms about IRD and Howard Ahramson. It all fits into a consistent campaign-- and everything shows that the present presiding bishop is a participant in it-- to deny dissenting traditionalists any access to power. I think Martins has a pretty good chance at this point to survive these attacks, because I think there are probably enough bishops in the middle who will stick to their guns in allowing him to be a dissident, especially since he isn't making any noises about taking his diocese out of the church. But the pattern of hypocrisy continues: people of power commending "dissidents" like Newman, and then moving to quash any dissidence within their own ranks, even if it means saying things about the opposition that really aren't true, and beyond that, attacking others for practicing politics when everything about their acts is political in the extreme. If prophecy is speaking to power, then these are the people to whom prophecy must speak, not a man whose words at GC were not heeded and whose ascent to power is in the hands of these so-called dissidents.