In a post highlighting the importance of Fr. Peter Gillquist (who died recently) for American Orthodox Christianity, I mentioned that few outside of Orthodoxy would know of him, especially if we do not count those who are aware of evangelicalism in the 1980s. The reality is about 2,000 evangelicals becoming Orthodox is a blip on the American religious radar and little more. There is an entire history behind this, and so I thought a series of posts discussing this a bit could be helpful. My point is not that there is no significance for American society or religion from Orthodox Christianity, and I hope I can turn to some of that later. The reality, though, is that in many, many ways, Orthodox Christianity is culturally and religiously insignificant on the American scene. This can be seen as either a reason to pout or a challenge to be addressed. I see it as the latter. In order to help show why, I thought a series of posts on this could be helpful and this is the first in such a series. Because of my background, I will turn to some historical aspects. Before doing that, however, I wish to discuss some of the recent research by Alexei Krindatch, a sociologist doing some great work. To get a head start on this, one may visit here:
That is, I want to situate us a bit before going any farther with this. I’m not going to repeat everything he’s written or concluded here, but there are a few points I would like to highlight in this first post. For now, I thought I’d start with some reflections from Krindatch’s Five Interesting Facts about Orthodox Church Geography and Demography in the United States. Here, please note I’m highlighting what I think is most relevant for us in Fargo, ND–read the full report for more information. I am also not going to focus on just his “five facts,” but on aspects from his data that are important for us.
1) We are fewer in number than a lot of books have historically claimed. In the past, it was normal to speak of the millions and millions of Orthodox in America. That helped bring clergy from the Old World but it led to an inflated number of Orthodox. In reality, we’re a little under 1% of the American population.
2) For us Orthodox in North Dakota, we have not added any parishes since 2000.
3) We are, however, a bit of a regional presence, as Cass County, ND, is highlighted as an Orthodox presence on the county map, though again, with a low population of Orthodox there (as we know all too well–we’re growing but when one is small, growing can still be small).
4) 1/4 (26%) of all Orthodox in America attend church services on a weekly basis. Given our attendance rates and our membership, we are above that, and that is something for which we should all be thankful! The OCA’s average weekly attendance is at 40% and given our numbers, I’d say we’re above that as well.
5) Notice, however, that Krindatch cites parish size as a factor. Very large parishes have quite low attendance rates. Small parishes like ours are like ours, with a majority present on any given Sunday.
That’s it for now. I’ll continue looking through this data in my next post. Again, anyone who’s interested should read the document itself, but I’ll try to highlight things that could be useful to us.
[As a postscript to this first post, I should add that although this begins a series, it does not mean that series might not be interrupted by timely posts on various other matters. Thank you for reading!]