The Diocese of South Dakota encompasses the entire state and is made up of seventy-nine congregations. Fifty-four are primarily Native American in membership and are widely spread across our nine reservations. Twenty-five are found in towns and cities across the state and are both Native and non-Native in their makeup. Our fastest growing church is located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and is a Sudanese Congregation, with worship in the Dinka language, led by a Sudanese priest, deacon and lay readers, which has the largest Sunday School in the Diocese.
The average Sunday attendance of our churches varies greatly, ranging from less than 10 to over 170, with the larger congregations being found in the population centers of Sioux Falls on the far east side of the state and Rapid City on the far west side. As is true in most parts of our nation, we are experiencing a significant decline in population of small towns and rural areas. Some churches on the reservations and in small towns have closed over the years due to the people who once lived nearby having moved away to seek employment or other attractions and benefits, such as medical care, offered in larger towns or cities.
A serious challenge that most of our congregations face is attracting the next generation of leaders whom our elders would like to be able to train and support to help the church continue to be a relevant and life changing part of the community where they live.
Despite the difficulty in getting our youth to attend church, youth ministries and activities continue to be developed and put into place, such as traditional Sunday schools, Wednesday schools, Vacation Bible School, middle school and high school youth groups and our Diocesan summer camp, Thunderhead Episcopal Center, that continues to grow every summer. These ministries among our youth are vitally important. An ever-increasing number of deaths have been occurring in the Diocese, especially among the youth and young adults on our reservations who have lost hope and take their own lives or suffer violent and senseless deaths. It is not uncommon for our mission clergy to officiate forty to sixty funerals annually. In most cases, two-thirds of those funerals are for people under the age of fifty.
If we had to choose one word to describe the Diocese of South Dakota, it would be “presence.” We are present in the good times, and we are present in the hard times. We are present when we want to be, and we are present even when we are so tired and discouraged that we would rather be anywhere else. But we are still present. For helpful insights, please read “Hope on the Ground” in The Living Church, an interview with Bishop John Tarrant.