BOSTON — The Episcopal Church is one of the most influential in the United States. President Bush is the 12th Episcopalian to be president. One-fifth of all US senators and 43 members of the House of Representatives claim affiliation with the church. But like most `mainline' Protestant churches since the 1960s, it has seen its membership decline, from a 1963 total of 3.4 million Episcopalians in the US to 2.5 million today.
The Rt. Rev. David Johnson, bishop of Boston, attributes much of the falloff in mainline church membership to defections to fundamentalist and Pentecostal denominations.
``There is a great hunger to be touched as much emotionally as well as rationally, and the mainline churches have always had a problem with this,'' he says.
The church's presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Edmond Browning, says the pendulum is beginning to swing in the other direction. ``There is a sense of vitality and health in most dioceses,'' he says. ``I believe many will see [Bishop Barbara Harris's] consecration as another sign of the vitality and health of the ... church.''
In addition, the charismatic movement, in which one-third to one-half of all Episcopalians are involved, and the spiritual healing movement, are both expressions of renewal in the church, Bishop Johnson says.