The parishioners at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church knew their congregation had been growing rapidly in recent years.
Until recently, they had no real idea of the significance of that growth.
Now they know for sure: St. Margaret's, 5700 W. Sixth St., is actually one of the fastest-growing Episcopal parishes in the United States.
In fact, the church known affectionately as St. Maggie's ranks No. 2 on a list of the top-growing Episcopal churches in the country, based upon self-reported Sunday attendance figures compiled from 1996 through 2000.
That's according to a recent survey conducted by the Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism, a body organized by the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
The survey's findings were featured in a column written by David Kalvelage, executive editor of The Living Church, in the magazine's June 8 issue.
The Living Church is an independent, Milwaukee-based weekly that has been serving Episcopalians since 1878. The magazine, available by subscription only, has a circulation of 10,000. It targets an audience of people in senior church leadership positions, as well as American missionaries overseas.
The Rev. Darrel Proffitt, rector of St. Margaret's, was pleased to learn of the survey's results.
"It's a real affirmation about what we're doing here: trying to reach out to a larger population than the Episcopal Church usually reaches," said Proffitt, 47, St. Margaret's pastor since fall 1998.
The church's success in attracting new members at a rate that has only increased in the past two years can be traced in part to its contemporary, and somewhat unconventional, approach to faith.
"We're not in the business of growing Episcopalians; we're in the business of growing followers of Jesus Christ. We have a great resource in the Anglican Church, but it should be a resource, not a hindrance," Proffitt said.
"In some places, tradition is above everything else. That's not true for us."
Indeed, the evidence of rapid growth at St. Margaret's is impressive. Just look at the numbers.
When Proffitt began serving as rector, attendance at Sunday worship services long used as the standard benchmark to measure growth in the Episcopal Church was about 190 people. These days, total attendance at St. Margaret's four Sunday services averages around 500.
At Easter this year, the church's services attracted about 1,000 worshippers an attendance record for the 13-year-old St. Margaret's.
In addition, the congregational budget has almost tripled since Proffitt arrived, and the church staff has grown to five people.
Though delighted at the church's swelling ranks, the pastor wasn't necessarily surprised by the trend.
"I expected to grow when I came here. I have my doctorate in church growth and evangelism," said Proffitt, a 1979 Kansas University graduate.
"I felt God's call here because I felt this church was willing to go where no Episcopal church had gone before: to center on proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ without being handcuffed to tradition."
St. Margaret's, which has been at its present location since 1997, is one of two Episcopal parishes in Lawrence. The other is Trinity Episcopal Church, 1011 Vt., which will celebrate its 147th anniversary in 2004.
Proffitt sees St. Margaret's older sibling as a partner, not a competitor, in ministry.
"The downtown church is a wonderful place for people who want a more traditional understanding of church, and I celebrate that," he said.
The pastor views two of St. Margaret's most appealing qualities as its informality one of the church's core values is a commitment to "meeting people where they are" and its ecumenical diversity, considering that only about 30 percent of its parishioners grew up Episcopalian, according to Proffitt.
"Not only are we meeting people where they are, but we have a sense of humor, and we are a welcoming community. That's what people say: 'I've never felt so welcome,'" he said.
The question raised by the commission's survey is this: Why are these top 10 Episcopal parishes growing so quickly?
Commission members held interviews with the leadership of these congregations including Proffitt to try to determine the reasons behind their growth.
According to Kalvelage's column in The Living Church, one parish cited its location; another said the community itself was growing. Others pointed to particular ministries, and some cited their clergy as the main reason.
Jefri Leonardi, a member of St. Margaret's about six years, has a compelling answer to why she has found a spiritual home at the church.
"Our family really put St. Margaret's and Darrel to the test because we lost our only child to cancer, and that was two years ago. A situation like that is when the rubber really meets the road; those are the difficult, real-life situations," she said.
"We are finding our way, and that is in great part thanks to God, Darrel and the church. I really feel like Darrel as an individual pastor and St. Margaret's as a community were very courageous during that time. They walked right into the darkness."
Heather Leonardi died March 31, 2001. She was 12.
Paulette Strong, principal of Quail Run School, has belonged to St. Margaret's since about 1991, and, like Jefri Leonardi, feels that she has found the right place to belong.
"There's definitely a spirit of openness, sort of this ecumenical group that's come together. It's about being a follower of Christ, rather than being associated with a particular church," she said.
"But I'd be remiss if I didn't say that one of the things that enriches my life is the liturgy of the Episcopal Church. There is a rich history and a liturgy that really offers a degree of consistency in my life and adds to my life on a weekly basis."