Demographics of the Diocese of Southern Virginia
The population of the region encompassed by the Diocese of Southern Virginia was estimated at 2.45 million people for July 2017. The chart shows the population distribution by age.
Percentages obtained from (www.census.gov/quickfacts)
Religious Affiliation in Virginia
Approximately 73% of Virginians consider themselves Christian. About 3% of Virginians identify as Episcopalian (www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/state/virginia).
There are 25,134 baptized members in the Diocese of Southern Virginia (2017 Parochial Reports). This represents about 1% of the population of the area covered by the Diocese. This is in line with the percentage of Episcopalians nationally in the US but below the 3% for Virginia.
The Diocese is divided into 9 convocations each with its own Dean.
Parishes in the Diocese range from small (under 25 ASA) to large (over 300 ASA) with a heavier concentration of members in the Williamsburg – Virginia Beach corridor.
There were 119 parishes in 2006 and 103 in 2017. Even with the reduction in the number of parishes, the percentage of parishes of family and pastoral size grew while that of program size fell. The diocese has maintained three churches in the corporate category but the number of churches at or above 150 ASA has continued to fall during this period.
Membership over the past 10 years has declined (31,854 members in 2008 to 25,134 in 2017, approximately a 21% decline). This pattern is similar to many other Episcopal dioceses within the U.S. over the same period. With this decline there is the inevitable pain of church closures. 10 churches have closed in the past 10 years and another, whose church burned down, joined with a neighboring parish. While the overall trend is downward, that does not tell the whole story. Parishes in Southern Virginia can be grouped into 3 categories: growing (16); maintaining (15); and declining (72). During the same period parish revenues have followed a similar pattern (growing, maintaining and declining). The amount paid to the Diocese as a percentage of parish revenue has been falling slightly overall. When you add inflation of over 17% into the mix, spending power at the Diocesan level has declined substantially.
There are parishes within the diocese that are growing and there is energy throughout the diocese to be involved in seeking new and innovative ways to spread the Word, share resources and assist the smaller parishes as they serve their local communities week by week. Conversations are happening within the different convocations and this information will be shared among the Deans at their meetings.
We have an active and dedicated group of priests and deacons. Currently there are approximately 102 active priests and 12 active deacons. We also have about 40 retired priests on the supply list.
9 parishes have 2 or more full time priests, 43 have one full time priest, 23 have part-time priests, 8 are in search (4 of whom currently have interims) and 20 are without priests.
Diocesan Office and Staffing
In June 2015 the Diocesan Offices were relocated from Norfolk to a beautiful new building south of Williamsburg in Oyster Point, Newport News. Leased space was obtained on the ground floor, and is easily accessed from Interstate 64.
The Diocese of Southern Virginia currently employs 9 staff members, not including the current bishop pro-tem. The positions include: Canon for Transition Ministries and Clergy Development, Canon for Administration, Canon for Formation, Missioner for Latino Ministries on the Eastern Shore, Executive Secretary for the Bishop Diocesan, Communications Officer, Administrative Assistant to the Canons, Comptroller, and Financial Assistant. Current responsibilities for each of these positions are summarized on the diocesan staff web page.
Military Presence in Southern Virginia
The Diocese of Southern Virginia has a significant military presence, as several major military installations and a large government contractor are located within our geographical area.
Naval Station Norfolk is Headquarters for the Atlantic Fleet and is the largest naval complex in the world. NAS Oceana is home to the east coast navy fighter community. Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story specializes in Land and Sea Littoral operations. Dam Neck is the east coast headquarters of the US Navy Seal Forces. Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton is comprised of Langley Air Force Base, one of the oldest continuously active Air Force bases in the country, and Fort Eustis, home of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls, is the sole designer and builder of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy. It is Virginia’s largest industrial employer with over 20,000 employees.
US Army Garrison Fort Lee, located near Petersburg, is home to the Combined Arms Support Command, with 20,000 assigned personnel and another 75,000 troops passing through the various training classes annually. Fort Pickett Maneuver Training Center, located near Blackstone, encompasses 40,000 acres and is the premier east-coast Army National Guard training center. It is also the future home of the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, currently under construction.
Although the impact of the military is considerable, it is mainly felt in the eastern part of the Diocese due to the concentration of military installations in the Tidewater area. The parishes in Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach are keenly aware of the military presence. It impacts the economy, schools, transportation, housing, and parish life. Parishes benefit from the leadership and financial support of their military members even as they must adjust to the reality of military life: valued members leave for the next assignment even as new members are made welcome. These parishes often have families where one spouse or family member is deployed. They are also ministering to those returning from deployment, some with psychological or physical injuries.
Galilee Parish in Virginia Beach for example has begun a program for combat veterans suffering from PTSD – Welcome Home Initiative, as well as a program for mental health issues in general. The Diocese is also fortunate to have many ordained clergy and lay leaders, trained by the military who chose to retire in Southern Virginia and are strong supporters of their local episcopal church.
Some Thoughts from our Youth
The youth presence in the Diocese of Southern Virginia is an important and vibrant part of the diocesan spiritual life. Throughout the year, youth events provide opportunities for fellowship, worship, and celebration. For example, the youth have weekend retreats in May and November, special “Happening” weekends, summer sessions at Chanco, and are also active at Annual Councils. During the last November weekend at Chanco, the youth participated in a listening session (link to Report of Listening Session with Youth) and voiced opinions about the current bishop search. From that session, a group of eight teens agreed to compile a report on items that are important to the youth and the qualities desired in the new bishop to share in this profile. This group is a subcommittee of our Youth Task Force, which consists of six youth and nine adult leaders. The subcommittee is composed of individuals who live in different areas of the diocese, and it helps to coordinate the gatherings that are happening for our youth.
Full diocesan events – such as Annual Councils, where twelve youth are selected to attend – are opportunities to show the youth how to be active members of the church. Through participation, our youth see how the church works and meet people like the Bishop, who have experience and hold leadership positions in the church. Youth are also encouraged to participate asactive members of the church. Their voice is valued.
Who are the youth of the Diocese of Southern Virginia? We are choir members, musicians, and praise dancers. We are lay readers, acolytes, and chalicers. We are learners and teachers, and we are the next leaders of the diocese. These are only a few of the ways we are involved in the church, but this involvement is the foundation of our learning and participation in the diocese.
An amazing thing we see in our diocese is that we have people from a very large age range in each parish. Whether it is an adult learning from the youth or the youth learning from the adults, we all gain knowledge through each other. This experience is something that is hard to find in the world, but our diocese makes it possible. Unfortunately, churches across the diocese are seeing fewer and fewer youth attend church and even fewer are seeking deep spiritual guidance. To combat this trend, we must bolster our youth programs and celebrate youth who already commit time to them. In order to attract a healthy number of youth, parishes should dedicate time each year to coordinate with the youth leaders. This communication of ideas and information is crucial for a smoothly run parish. The youth leader in each parish will also want to see what the youth themselves desire in terms of spiritual fulfillment. A form could be sent out at the end of each Sunday School season for the youth to have a chance to reflect and make comments on the value and learnings received and give suggestions for future seasons. Another hope we have, is to rebuild the convocation model, giving youth groups from different churches the opportunity to come together for joint events during the year.
There should be a strong focus for getting high school aged youth involved on a diocesan level. Formation for ages 12 – 18 builds a strong foundation for life in the church that they can hold fast to when they become young adults. The older youth are important role models for the younger youth and these high schoolers want to be in that position. There is a desire and interest for youth to participate in leadership roles on the diocesan level. The youth of this diocese love experiencing change, and new improvements; they are also accepting of all walks of life and would love to see more representation of that in the diocese.
The hope for the new bishop is that s/he is forward-thinking and open-minded. We feel that diversity, visibility, and spiritual depth are important qualities in a Bishop. Not only do the youth want to be more involved in the diocese, but the diocese should be more involved with the youth. It would be amazing to see the bishop and clergy members make appearances or attend youth offerings, like ones held at Chanco. They should seek out opportunities to be engaged with the youth. This would be an opportunity for these relationships to be built and for youth to engage with members of our clergy and bishop to learn from each other, to ask spiritual questions and receive answers, and to discuss struggles and successes of our daily lives.
As our youth programs become more developed, it has come to our attention that students graduating from high school have little to no opportunities to stay involved. There are Canterbury Programs at some colleges in Virginia. There are however, students studying in other areas or not attending a college, that do not have access to these resources. There should be contact with these young adults through mail or email, keeping them updated and involved with their diocese and parish. Having more opportunities for ages 18 – 25 would allow for more involvement of college age adults and give them something to look for during stressful semesters or difficult times in their life. So many youth have been involved in their diocese from a young age, we need to look for ways to help them stay connected as they move into their 20s and 30s.
While we are still in the process of identifying our next bishop, it is important that the youth are able to maintain a role in the diocese. The Youth Task Force that is currently in place allows the youth and adults of the diocese to communicate effectively and cooperate in order to meet the needs and desires of the youth and the parents of the diocese. One addition that would benefit this task force would be to have an appointed diocesan staff member whose focus is on youth which would help to oversee and organize youth events along with other offerings that arise throughout the year. Once a bishop is selected, it is crucial that the youth and the bishop communicate on a regular basis. This will allow for all churches throughout our diocese to connect with our bishop.
Challenges and Strengths
The challenges facing the Diocese of Southern Virginia are not unique. Declining attendance, aging congregations, and dwindling resources drive anxiety around the sustainability of parishes struggling to evolve and meet the needs of present population while preparing to address the next generation.
Shrinking congregations and a deficiency of funds invite a serious review of how the Diocese discerns, trains, and deploys clergy. A growing number of parishes feel they can no longer afford full-time clergy and, in some cases, part-time clergy. The topics of local formation, and bi-vocational priests have been raised along with strengthening the role of deacons and providing continuing formation of the laity for ministry. Currently there are parishes across the diocese that do not have services each Sunday because there is no priest available. Some have morning prayer services when no priest is available, but this is also not always possible.
“Often, small parishes are forgotten by the diocese and my hope is that this will change”
There is a consensus of concerns around distance. The Diocese stretches from the coast to the foothills of the mountains, from Danville to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Containing rural farming areas, small towns, and larger cities, geography plays a role in the perceived disconnect between areas of the diocese, and among parishes.
In addition to physical distance, there is a lack of cohesive identity as a diocese. No clearly articulated vision, an absence of fully developed relationships between “the Diocese” and many parishes, and infrequent episcopal visits have led to feelings of isolation and abandonment in some parishes.
“As a small mission church, our attitude most of the time is that we will have to continue to fend for ourselves, especially without a rector.”
Despite the above expressed challenges, in many voices of the people within the Diocese, there is a spirit of purpose, and fire for the invitation of the Gospel, others express a hope for the future.
“Southern Virginia is being called to be a beacon in a hurting world in need of Christ’s love.”
“[that] we will be radical and that we will never give up in our striving to bring each person on this earth into a loving relationship with God and with each other.”
Latino Ministries began as a ministry to the Eastern Shore and the migrant community there. While that is still the primary purpose of Latino Ministries in the Diocese of Southern Virginia, we now have a Latino Missioner on the staff. She continues to serve as the Director of Dos Santos Food Pantry, a ministry of the churches of St. George’s Parish on the Eastern Shore. However, in her role as missioner for the diocese, she also coordinates with other churches not on the Eastern Shore so that more churches can learn from this important ministry. The long-term goal is to expand Latino ministries to other parts of the diocese where there is a Latino population.
In many ways, The Diocese of Southern Virginia serves as a microcosm for the Episcopal Church as a whole. Our diocese spans a large geographic area. We have family sized churches, suburban resource sized parishes, and everything in between. We have parishes in bustling downtown areas as well as parishes surrounded by farmland. While many of our parishes are struggling to maintain their membership and their buildings, a handful of churches are growing for a variety of reasons. If these churches could find more ways to work together and share resources, this diversity of parishes and people could become a strength for the diocese. Because of the variety of resources, we have that potential.
The Diocese of Southern Virginia went through a difficult time when a former bishop was asked to leave. There was a great deal of tension within the clergy and the people of the diocese. There was very little trust. With Bishop Holly’s leadership, as well as other leaders in the diocese, we have managed to rebuild much of that trust. As a result, we have a newfound appreciation for the health of our diocese and a level of self-awareness that not all dioceses might have. We know what it is to be without a shepherd, and we know what it is to be in a safe and stable place. It is possible that our longing for stability and the process of finding stability has made us more complacent than is healthy. However, it would also seem that people realize that we have a stable place from which to leap into new areas with the help of a new leader who will guide us beyond safety toward God’s call for us.
People in the Diocese of Southern Virginia are committed to their faith, their parish and the diocese. This was seen clearly by the number of people taking the time to participate in the search process by voicing their thoughts, hopes and dreams. While church statistics across denominations suggest a decline in church participation, in the Diocese of Southern Virginia people are embracing the challenges of parish ministry and want to contribute to the solution rather than simply drop out. While people are remaining, they are not hesitant to voice their frustrations with the diocesan staff. By naming their concerns and sometimes expressing their anger, they have identified areas for improvement and reconciliation which can be addressed during the interim period in the same way a parish might work to overcome difficulties while preparing for the next Priest. As one participant stated, “there is a difference between passive availability and active engagement.” While some may view this as an organizational issue, which it is, it could also be viewed as a pastoral issue. Viewing a situation as a pastoral issue opens the door for new ways of engaging with parishes, of building trust and of working together with a shared vision.
Surrounded by reminders of a rich history, in the context of the full traditions of the Episcopal Church while celebrating diversity, the parishes within the diocese are passionately driven “to help with poverty, homelessness, and joblessness.” We know that “the twin heartbeats of Jesus (evangelism and outreach) keep us alive and focused.” These programs include distributing food and clothing, building and repairing houses, helping to integrate new people into a community through teaching English as a second language or offering worship services in Spanish to name a few. Outreach is the lifeblood of the diocese and can expose members to needs in their communities and beyond.
“Outreach allows members to give back in ways they would not normally have been able to.”
“[We] benefit from giving, seeing others receive, learning about other lives, cultures, hardships.”
While all parishes want to contribute, for those without regular clergy support, the amount of energy and time needed to find supply clergy and to do the pastoral care for one another may in some instances reduce their ability to reach out beyond their own members. While a parish’s ability to meet basic needs of food, clothing and shelter may be met, their need for enriching worship and pastoral care is also important for members’ personal spiritual growth and development. Recognizing this reality is essential for the future strength and service of these parishes.
Chanco on the James, our camp and conference center, is a major strength of the diocese. It connects with our youth in very special ways and provides a facility for parishes and other groups within the diocese to get together and feed their spirit. See more details on Chanco under the section on Ministries.
A unique and valued experience within this Diocese is the Parish of Holy Apostles, Virginia Beach – which incorporates the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal/Anglican Church. This ecumenical community was established in 1977, chartered and supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond. It is the only community of its type in the US, and Southern Virginia is proud to be a part of this ecumenical undertaking. See two liturgies for more information.
The Diocesan Connection
Take a moment to browse through the most recent quarterly collection of events to get a flavor for what is happening in the parishes of the Diocese.
What makes our Diocese Special?
- Our People and our Parishes
- Our Spiritual Journey – since 1607
- Jamestown Settlement
- Ecumenical community – Parish of Holy Apostles
- Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel – 26 miles long – only access between the Eastern Shore convocation and the rest of our Diocese
- High military presence
- Home of Newport News Shipbuilding – the sole designer and builder of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy.