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Author: Jason S. Lantzer
Title: Electronic Episcopalians?: The Results of the Episcopal Email Survey of 1999
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
November 1999

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Source: Electronic Episcopalians?: The Results of the Episcopal Email Survey of 1999
Jason S. Lantzer

vol. 2, no. 3, November 1999
Article Type: Work in Progress
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Electronic Episcopalians?: The Results of the Episcopal Email Survey of 1999

Jason S. Lantzer

Indiana University

Email is fast replacing other forms of "traditional" communication, such as letters and even the telephone. Thus, there is a need for the historian to adapt his research techniques to adjust to this change. Not just as a way to make contact with individuals and institutions that may be helpful for a particular project, but to use it as a research tool. The purpose of this paper is to examine the use of email (and secondarily, the Internet) in just such a manner. Not only is email and effective way to contact people but it is also a way to conduct valuable research, much as oral histories are.

Methodology and Background:

In the fall of 1998 I embarked on research for my Master's thesis at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). The goal of my project was to look at how local, Mainline Protestant churches handled the events of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. After narrowing my subject matter, I went from a discussion of "mainline decline" to one of just looking at how the Episcopal Church handled the issues of rapid growth, the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam, and the debates within their denomination over female ordination and revision to the Book of Common Prayer. I chose the Episcopal Church for several reasons. Among them that I had already done research in one local congregation, the denomination requires that parishes keep records in an archive, and there was a wealth of secondary literature on how the National Church handled these issues (though precious little about how local congregations dealt with these years).

In fact, the local is key in the discussion of mainline decline. Were congregations doing and saying the same things as the national bodies? Are there the same splits at the local level as have been witnessed at the national? The assumption, for all Mainline Protestant churches, has been that the National Church did not reflect the local congregations, and that meant trouble for the denomination in question. Was this true? These are exactly the kinds of questions that I hoped to answer in my thesis.

But in order to answer these questions, I needed to do something beyond traditional congregational research. When I started research for my thesis, interviews happened in the following way. I called the church and set up a time to talk with the pastor about the project and to look through the parish archives. During the course of the interview with the pastor, I asked for names of people that he or she thought I should talk to. Usually they could think of several longtime members that would be willing to talk to me, and I then contacted these people for interviews. While this method provided me with many excellent interviews, it was somewhat limiting. Not just because it was by the discretion of the pastor, but because I was only averaging about two layperson interviews per parish. If I wanted to get a more complete view of the local level, I need more voices.

In the process of doing research for the project, I looked at over forty-five diocesan WebPages, as well as dozens of parish and other Episcopal related WebPages, in search of histories and information. Though these forays onto the Internet were often fruitless (with a few notable exceptions), it was here that the seed was planted for the email survey that is the topic of this paper. The hope of the survey was to increase the number of people interviewed, in some matter, during the course of my MA thesis research.

Some might ask, why an email survey? The short answer to that question is why not! Not only is an email survey faster to produce and send out, but, and perhaps most importantly, it is cheaper to conduct. Still, other questions remain. Is it as effective as a traditional mail survey? Will enough people respond so as to allow the researcher to be able to tell something about the society (in this case local parish) under study, beyond personal reflections? The only way to find out of course was to conduct a survey. In order to help qualify the results, a response rate goal of fifty percent was reached after some consultation with the Polis Center at IUPUI.

I sent the survey to individuals in several of the churches in my study, who had released their email addresses in some way. The survey included an introduction, which introduced both myself and the project to the potential respondents, followed by questions about the target areas of my study (1950-1980); about events, church life, and the pastors, as well as questions about their background, and finally a conclusion that served as both interview release form and as an invitation for more information.

Trial Runs: Hits and Misses

Before I launched the survey, I had a varied experience with using the Internet to gain access to people and information that could help me in my project. For example, my first use of email to set up an interview came as a result of an archive trip to one of the churches. While visiting Nativity Episcopal Church, I received the business card of a member with an email address. I sent him an email; we chatted, and then set up a time for a face-to-face interview. Soon after this success, I looked up a former rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church on line, by finding his new California parish's website and sending him an email message. As was the case at Nativity, we conversed via email, and then set up a time for a phone interview. Also, by utilizing email, I was able to contact Professor Thomas Reeves, author of the book The Empty Church: Does Organized Religion Matter Anymore?, which discusses the years in question from a national perspective.

Using addresses found on an Episcopal Church webpage, I was able to contact three former bishops with Indianapolis ties: Paul Moore, retired Bishop of New York and former dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Bishop R. Stewart Wood, Bishop of Michigan and former rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church, and Donald Davis, retired Bishop of Northwest Pennsylvania and former rector of St. Christophe's (Carmel). I held two phone interviews (one of which was scheduled via email) as a result and corresponded with one over email. I also conversed with the Presiding Bishop of the Traditional Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Richard G. Melli, over email. The Traditional Episcopal Church is part of the Continuing Anglican Movement, and broke with the rest of the denomination over the issues of female ordination and the 1979 Prayer Book, both important parts of my study.

In addition to these accomplishments, my greatest research disappointments also came as a result of the web. I found the website of St. Edward the Confessor Anglican Catholic Church in Indianapolis. The Anglican Catholics broke off from the rest of the Episcopal Church during the 1970s over the issues of female ordination and the 1979 Prayer Book. Though I tried calling, writing, and emailing the church, nothing came of my requests. I also contacted the Anglican Province of Christ the King, via their webpage. Like the Anglo Catholics at St. Edwards and the Traditional Episcopal Church as well, this group of former Episcopalians had broken with the main church group over the issues of female ordination and Prayer Book revision. Unlike the members of St. Edwards however, this group is more Protestant in its outlook. The contact led to an email exchange with a member of their staff, but despite contacting the local Indianapolis congregation by phone and letter (Good Shepherd Anglican Church); nothing came of it for the project.

The Email Survey

The survey portion of the project started on 1 March 1999, with a mass email to members of St. Timothy's, St. Matthew's, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Alban's, and St. Paul's Episcopal Churches. On 3 March 1999, I sent a somewhat modified survey to email addresses from the Diocese of Northern Indiana. I sent reminder messages, each time eliminating those addresses that had replied, on 22 March and 14 April. These reminders also included a request that even if the respondents could not help, I would appreciate a reply for statistical reasons. The project officially ended on 1 May 1999.

Churches with WebPages

It is interesting to note that nearly all Episcopal dioceses in the United States have some form of Internet presence. One of the few exceptions to this is the Diocese of Indianapolis, where my work was being done. However, three of the diocese's churches, that were germane to my study, did have their own parish WebPages. As such, I utilized them in both my initial research, as well as in my email survey. All email addresses for the first three churches studied were accessed from their parish WebPages.

St. Timothy's Episcopal Church

St. Timothy's Episcopal Church is the only Episcopal parish on the Southside of Indianapolis. It was founded in the late 1950s as a replacement for the previous struggling parish on that side of town, St. George's. It has traditionally been known as a conservative, working class parish. Because the parish was going through a rector transition, it proved impossible for me to visit the church and go through its archives (despite numerous calls, letters, and emails). Fortunately, the church's webpage includes a history. My hope was that the survey of the twenty-five members, staff, and friends of the church would produce results.

This was not to be however. Of the twenty-five potential respondents, twelve of the addresses had either expired or where "bad" in some other way. Of the remaining thirteen, I only received two replies to the survey, for a 15.39 percent response rate. The one of the respondents indicated that he had been a former member of two other Indianapolis Episcopal churches. Both recalled the debate over female ordination as being important, while only one of them recalled the issue of the new Prayer Book.

St. Matthew's Episcopal Church

St. Matthew's Episcopal Church really has two histories. It is an old parish, in the sense that it was started in Irvington in the 1910s. However, by the 1950s, the congregation decided that it had to build a new church, outside of Irvington, but still on Indianapolis's Eastside. For a time, the plan was that this new building would be a mission of the old church. But in the end, it was decided to move the entire parish from Irvington completely. Since that move, the congregation has witnessed good and bad times, and maintains a strong attachment to its past while embracing the future.

The parish webpage lists only five email addresses, the smallest number of any of the churches in the survey. These five are an intermixing of staff, priests, and involved laypersons. Since I had already done extensive interviewing at the church, I added St. Matthew's to the survey solely because they had a webpage. I received two replies, for a response rate of 40 percent. One was from a new member, who related that they had formerly belonged to the Catholic Church. The other was from the rector of the church, who I had already interviewed.

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church is the oldest Episcopal church in Indianapolis and is the cathedral of the Diocese of Indianapolis. It has a rich history and counts among its former members the late Eli Lilly, one time head of the pharmaceutical empire of the same name. During the years of my study, the parish was at the center of the debate over the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam. It witnessed a divide in its membership over these issues and the priest who expoused a "radical" form of civil rights from the pulpit, while attacking American foreign policy in Vietnam.

The church webpage listed thirteen addresses, all of which were church staff. This proved to be a problem. While only one of the emails was "bad," I received no email replies, leading me to drop Christ Church from the subsequent "i's not to late" emails. I believe that the main problem with including this list into my survey was that its members were all staff. Because Christ Church can afford to have a paid church staff, this means that the staff members are not necessarily members of the church itself. If this is the case, they do not have a vested interest in the church's history, nor would they have been a part of the congregation during the years in question. However, it was not a complete loss. The survey did get me an interview with the Very Reverend Robert Giannini, the dean of the Cathedral. We discussed the history of Christ Church, its mission today in the city, as well as where the National Church was heading in the future. But though our interview was a result of the survey, it was arranged over the phone.

Church Directories

Though the survey seemed to be off to a bad start, the majority of addresses and replies were to come not from the Internet, but because of church directories.

St. Alban's Episcopal Church

St. Alban's Episcopal Church was founded during the 1950s on the city's Northeast side, as a result of a gift from Episcopalian developers who were building a new subdivision. Through the years, the church has become a community church, even if it no longer draws all of its members from the neighborhood around it. The congregation has also been able to maintain this status despite the fact that the neighborhood is now home to many African Americans (and their churches), who have not traditionally felt at home in the Episcopal Church. The parish's 1998 directory listed twenty-five addresses, five of which turned out to be "bad." Of the remainder, I received ten replies, for a response total of 50 percent.

Several of the respondents were former members of Episcopal churches, though not all from the Indianapolis area. Many were new members, who obviously could offer very little information about the church's past. Those who could most often remembered female ordination and the Prayer Book debates, though several commented on growth, civil rights, and Vietnam as well. Perhaps the best thing to come out of the St. Alban's portion of the survey was being put into contact with the former bishop of the diocese because of it. The Rt. Rev. Edward Jones and I conversed over email and later met for an interview.

But what does the survey tell us about St. Alban's? >From the outset, it should be said that because of the small numbers involved, the survey results could only provide the briefest of thumbnail sketches. Having said that, the parish seems to have a stable membership base. Its membership also seems to be what I would call "open" to a great degree. It has a female minister, is a welcome home to former Catholics, is family friendly, and the former bishop of the diocese makes it his church home. Additionally, there is some recognition of the issues that came out of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, though not a tremendous amount. This correlates rather nicely to what I found in the church's own archives.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church

St. Paul's Episcopal Church is one of the oldest Episcopal churches in the city and was founded as a result of the Civil War by disgruntled members of Christ Church. After nearly a century of being located downtown, the parish moved to a new structure on the city's growing Northside, following World War II. The 1998 parish directory listed 123 addresses. Because of the number of potential respondents, I broke the list into four groups.

Group One

Going alphabetically through the directory, Group One had thirty-five potential addresses. Of that number, nine were bad, and fifteen replied. This gave Group One a response rate of 57.69 percent. The respondents were a good mixture of both old and new members of the parish, one of whom had arrived at the Episcopal Church after being a lifelong Methodist. Other respondents provided insight on former pastors of the church. Most of the replies, however, contained very little usable information.

What does this tell us about Group One? This group is made up of both longtime and relatively new members of the parish. Because of the brief amount of time spent at St. Paul's during the years in question, this group seemingly does not have sense of its history. However, it is clear that the group (and thus the church that it represents) is an "open" one, as it is a place where members of other denominations can feel at home.

Group Two

Like Group One, Group Two consisted of thirty-five addresses, ten of which were bad. I received sixteen replies, for a total of 64 percent (the largest return of any group). Several of the respondents related how they had "ended up" at St. Paul's, after belonging to other parishes in the city or even other denominations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Methodist Church. Others remembered the debates over female ordination and the Prayer Book, and some could even recall civil rights and Vietnam as issues as well.

What does this tell us about Group Two? Like Group One, it is made up of both longtime and newer members. However, its longtime members have a better sense of the history of the parish. Again like Group One, Group Two exhibits the "open" quality that seems to be a hallmark of the Episcopal churches in this study.

Group Three

Group Three, as with the two groups before it, also had thirty-five addresses. Of that number, nine were "bad," and I received replies from twelve, for a response total of 46.15 percent. Several of the respondents had started their time in the Episcopal Church at other local parishes. A few were relatively new to the church, one from the Methodist Church, while others were longtime members. Of this group, the clearest recollections were about the debates over female ordination and the new Prayer Book.

Group Four

The final group from St. Paul's, Group Four, is also the smallest. It contains eighteen addresses, of which five were bad. I received five replies, for a response total of 38.46 percent. Though this was a small response group, the information they provided was excellent. Two of the respondents were longtime members of St. Paul's, and so, provided information about not only female ordination and the Prayer Book, but also civil rights, Vietnam, and other issues as well. One was a lifelong Episcopalian, though new to St. Paul's, who provided valuable insight as well. Of the other two respondents, one had recently joined the parish from a Methodist church, while the other only commented on the Prayer Book debate.

St. Paul's Results

Adding in all four groups, St. Paul's had 123 email addresses. Of that number, thirty-three were bad. I received forty-eight replies, for a total response of 53.33 percent. The question then is what does this tell us about St. Paul's as a parish? As has been alluded to, via the two groups that returned enough surveys to warrant sketches, St. Paul's is an open church that welcomes other Christians (Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, and even non-denominational Christians) into its midst. As such, it is a place that feels comfortable to many people. It maintains many of its longtime members, both families in the parish and from within the denomination, whether they always agree with the changes or not, and attracts new members as well. Overall, there is a good sense of history within the congregation. Of all the areas of my study, the ones that remain freshest in peoples' minds are the debates over female ordination and the revision to the Prayer Book. These issues are also reflected in the archives of the parish.

Overall Results For Indianapolis Churches

The following table is the result of compiling the replies of all the Indianapolis churches in the study, with the exception of Christ Church Cathedral. Because the total replies did not come to fifty percent, no in depth argument has been made about the diocese.


  • Male/Female Attended Other Episcopal Churches

    28 Male (45%) Nine (15%)

    34 Female (55%)

  • Attended Other Denomination Average Time in Present Congregation?

    Six (10%) 14.8 years

  • Information About Previous Rectors Remembered Discussion of Growth

    Five (8%) 2 Yes (3.2%)

    2 No (3.2%)

  • Remembered Discussion of Civil Rights Remembered Discussion of Vietnam

    3 Yes (4.8%) 2 Yes (3.2%)

    6 No (9.7%) 10 No (16%)

  • Remembered Discussion of Female Priests Remembered Discussion of 1979 Prayer Book

    17 Yes (27%) 17 Yes (27%)

    3 No (4.8%) 1 No (1.6%)

Comparison: The Diocese of Northern Indiana

Because of the success that I had in working with the email survey in my Indianapolis churches, I decided to try it on another diocese as well. This not only added to my understanding of the issues, but also provided me with a degree of comparison for the Diocese of Indianapolis. I chose the Diocese of Northern Indiana for a full comparison for several reasons. First is that I thought that it might be useful to be able to compare the two Hoosier dioceses. While the Diocese of Indianapolis, historically, has been somewhat "middle of the road," the Diocese of Northern Indiana has had a reputation of being a "citadel of Anglo-Catholicism." I began my research by looking at the diocese's webpage, investigating various parish WebPages, and contacting the Cathedral of St. James in South Bend via mail. The dean of the cathedral, the Very Reverend Frederick Mann, put me in touch with several retired priests who had witnessed the events first hand, as well as the diocese's archivist. Throughout November and December of 1998, I corresponded with these individuals, receiving insight as well as two published histories (one of the diocese and the other of Trinity Episcopal Fort Wayne). In March of 1999, I decided to utilize the diocese's webpage and send a modified survey to the churches and priests of the Diocese of Northern Indiana.

There were forty-two email addresses on the webpage, seven of which were "bad." I received sixteen replies however, for a response total of 45.71 percent. I received the following information from the following churches.

St. David's Episcopal (Elkhart) had records of growth, civil rights, Vietnam, and the debates over the Prayer Book and female ordination. Gethsemane Episcopal (Marion), had information on the rectors, civil rights, Vietnam, and female ordination. St. John the Evangelist Episcopal (Elkhart), promised to help, but has yet to reply further. St. Andrew's Episcopal (Kokomo), likewise has promised to help, but has yet to fulfill that promise. The rector of Grace Episcopal (Fort Wayne), which was formerly St. Phillip's and St. James, told me to contact Trinity (Fort Wayne), since they were the only church in the city for much of the years in question. Another priest at Grace did not feel that she could help. I got a reply from the wife of the rector of St. Paul's Episcopal (Mishawaka), who put me in touch with the parish historian. He told me that civil rights was a major concern at St. Augustine's (Gary), and that Vietnam was not an issue at St. Paul's. But he did say that female ordination and the new Prayer Book were topics of some debate within the parish. The priest at St. Elizabeth's (Culver) was a student at Indiana University Bloomington during those years, and recalls that they were very active in the civil rights movement. The present rector of Holy Trinity (South Bend) said that female ordination was an issue for that parish. Deacon Joseph Illes, of St. James Cathedral, who grew up in Holy Trinity, and could recall the firestorm of debate over the issue, echoed this. St. Christopher's (Crown Point) did not think that they could be of any help. Dean Mann, at the cathedral, provided me with more information on the diocese. Trinity (Michigan City) asked for more information to see if they could help, but have yet to reply. St. John of the Cross (Bristol) sent me a copy of their parish history.

Diocese of Southwest Florida

I also chose to seriously look through the Diocese of Southwest Florida, not as a true comparison feature of the Diocese of Indianapolis, but for future reference, should this project ever evolve into something larger. I picked this diocese out of all the others for the simple reason that I had vacationed in the area and thought that the Sarasota area might lend itself to a comparison to Indianapolis, since they have a similar number of Episcopal churches.

The diocese's webpage is full of information about the diocese, its churches, and its priests. The information, obviously, also includes a good number of email addresses. I have, thus far, contacted two priests from this Florida diocese. The first is the second woman to be ordained into the priesthood in the Diocese of Indianapolis, the Reverend Tanya Beck. Though she has left Indianapolis for Florida, she has agreed to send me information concerning her ordination. I also contacted the rector of Nativity Episcopal (Sarasota), who has been very helpful in explaining to me some issues surrounding the Prayer Book.


So, was the survey worth it? Yes! It provided me with more information on the subjects that I dealt with in my thesis. Furthermore, it gave me accesses to people (and their stories) that under normal circumstances I would probably not have been put into contact with. I utilize forty-nine interviews and correspondence in my thesis. Twenty-two of them are a result of this survey, and as we have seen, several more have their origin in the internet.

The next question, obviously, is should the email survey replace the standard mail survey? Here, I think, the results are more mixed. The first strike against email is that not everyone has it, while everyone has a postal address. Still, I think that email is a useful tool, especially for the church historian. I also think that my survey shows that it can not be presumed that only young people have computers. Many of the people who responded to my survey were retired, while others had access to computers because of their jobs. Furthermore, postal surveys can not compete with the email survey's cost (no postage or envelopes) or the speed at which it is delivered, and by which replies can come to you. It is an instantaneous medium, which also allows for instant follow-up questions, something that is more difficult to do via the mail.

This is not to say that email does not have other problems, outside of the number of people who have accounts. Another problem, that I did not allow for when putting my initial lists together, was that of families and work place. Many families have a separate email account for each member. Also, people may have both a home and work account that is listed. This leads to duplication in messages sent and the likelihood that only one member of the family will reply, skewing the statistics a bit. The problems arising from staff email listings and "bad" inputting have already been addressed above, but need to be remembered for the future.

Overall, the survey had the effect that I sought. It broadened the perspective of my thesis and brought other voices into my project, making it better. I believe that its future as a research tool for the historian is assured, whether it provides the statistical basis for more general studies or not.

Jason S. Lantzer, PhD. Student in History, Indiana University Bloomington