Unsplitting Two Michigan Dioceses

Bishop Whayne Hougland Jr. | Diocese of Western Michigan

Michigan currently has four dioceses, and collectively their average Sunday attendance is slightly lower than the statewide Diocese of Colorado. Small dioceses inevitably face financial challenges.

In an update last week on the pending partnership between the dioceses of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, Episcopal News Service reported that the dioceses “have not shied away from discussing the possibility of someday merging.”

For now, the dioceses intend to share a bishop and collaborate in other ways. Each diocese has blessed the proposed union. All that remains is a formal vote at Eastern Michigan’s convention in October, when the Easterners are expected to elect the Western Michigan Bishop Whayne M. Hougland, Jr., as their provisional bishop.

In an extensive interview with TLC in January, the Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, the Episcopal Church’s bishop for pastoral development, noted that “the church is in the midst of examining its structures — and recognizing that in many cases the structures or the boundaries that we have in place were perfectly appropriate in the 19th century, but they don’t translate so well into the 21st.”

Ousley, the former Bishop of Eastern Michigan, described the cultural forces that led to the partitioning of the state.

The headquarters for the Big Three automakers and all their executives, they were in Detroit and the suburbs. The workers were still in Detroit and the suburbs, but as you got into the northern part, Saginaw and Flint, that’s where the blue-collar workers were. So you had a divide based on labor and management. I was bishop of the labor diocese. The economy in the eastern side of the state was based on the automotive industry.

The western side of the state is the furniture industry, high-tech, former lumber industry, and expensive, exclusive tourism.

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