Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
The Layman Online > Presbyterian News and Analysis > PCUSA membership declines again in 2013 (updated)

PCUSA membership declines again in 2013 (updated)

While the decline wasn’t as big as 2012, the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s reported membership loss in 2013 is still alarming.

According to the 2013 statistics for the PCUSA, the denomination lost 89,296 members in 2013 bringing the total membership to 1,760,200. That’s down 4.83 percent from 2012’s total membership of 1,849,496.

pcusa membership 2006-2013The 2012 decline was the largest since 1973 when the PCUSA lost 139,882 members. The 2013 decline, though less than 2012, is still the second largest decline since 1974. The denomination lost 100,762 members that year. (Click here for chart showing PCUSA membership and losses 1960-2013)

In a news release from the Office of the General Assembly, PCUSA Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons said “Yes, the numbers reflect a decrease in active members in the denomination, but the numbers also illustrate fewer losses than the previous year. The membership declined by 89,296 in 2013, compared to 102,791 in 2012.

“We are meeting the challenges we have had and it’s showing,” he said. “And, our decline in total congregations is holding fairly steady.”

Many of the members who have left did so when their congregation was dismissed from the denomination. A total of 148 churches and 165 ministers were dismissed from the PCUSA in 2013. (See list below of 300-plus members churches that left the denomination in 2013)

That’s 38 more churches and 39 more ministers dismissed in 2013 than in 2012.

Carmen Fowler LaBerge, executive editor of The Layman, points out that “those numbers do not account for churches that disaffiliated nor those situations where the presbytery sided with a minority of the membership and declared it the true church. There are several more congregations that left the PCUSA in 2013 that are not accounted for in these statistics. But the PCUSA does not acknowledge that those churches are gone.”

The official statistics released by the Office of the General Assembly show 10,038 PCUSA churches in 2013, down from 10,262 in 2012.

LaBerge says, “It is important to remember that more than half of those 10,262 churches have fewer than 89 members and no installed pastor. We won’t know the full story until the PCUSA Research Services finishes crunching the numbers. But we can confirm that the trend continues in a long-term negative direction. Revival is needed.”

Parsons did note that the number of churches does not reflect any new church developments, new immigrant fellowships or other worshiping communities.

The statistics also show there were fewer gains by professions of faith and baptisms in 2013 than in 2012. In the 17 and under category, 14,905 joined the church through profession of faith, reaffirmation and restoration, while in the 18 and over category, the number was 27,601. That’s down 1,488 and 3,844 respectively.

Children’s baptisms were down 1,933 to total 17,929 in 2013, while adult baptisms totaled 4,583, down 1,546 from 2012.

LaBerge finds those numbers “troubling.” She said, “28,734 PCUSA Presbyterians died in 2013. But PCUSA churches only baptized 17,929 children and 4,583 adults. That alone is net loss of 6,222 members. That is simply not sustainable. The PCUSA cannot rely on so-called natural evangelism to refill its pews. She must re-engage the first Great End of the Church which is the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind.”

It’s not just the pews that are lighter, it’s also the offering plates.

Both contributions and expenses showed a decline from 2012 figures. Contributions decreased by $61,988,095 in 2013. Total contributions in 2013 were $1,848,807,540 and in 2012, $1,910.795,635.

Expenditures also showed declines –except in three areas: Local mission saw an increase of $1,855,462, other mission an increase of $5,642,335, and investment expenditures, $391,772.

Large churches (300-plus members churches) that have been dismissed or voted to disaffiliate from the PCUSA in 2013 include: (details come from The Layman Online’s chart of churches leaving the PCUSA.)

  • Chapel by the Lake in Juneau, Alaska, 491 members, dismissed by Alaska Presbytery on 4/6/13
  • First, Walla Walla, Wash., 325 members, dismissed by Central Washington Presbytery effective 11/30/13
  • First, Yakima, Wash. 1,228 members, dismissed by Central Washington Presbytery effective 12/1/13
  • Moses Lake, Moses Lake, Wash., 613 members, dismissed by Central Washington Presbytery 2/23/13
  • Huntersville, Huntersville, N.C., 656 members, dismissed by Charlotte Presbytery on 2/16/13
  • Eastminster, Marietta, Ga., 577 members, dismissed by Cherokee Presbytery on 5/28/13
  • College Hill, Cincinnati, Ohio, 455 members, dismissed by Cincinnati Presbytery on 9/10/13
  • Bethany Korean, Carrollton, Texas, 344 members, dismissed by Grace Presbytery on 4/20/13
  • Highland Park, Dallas, Texas, 4,896 members, voted to disaffiliate from the PCUSA on 10/27/13
  • Northminster, Peoria, Ill., 636 members, dismissed from Great Rivers Presbytery on 10/8/13
  • Church of the Redeemer, Snellville, Ga., 573 members, dismissed from Greater Atlanta Presbytery on 5/2/13
  • Brookdale, St. Joseph, Mo., 319 members, voted to disaffiliate from PCUSA on 8/25/13
  • First, Edmond, Okla., 1,760 members, dismissed by Indian Nations Presbytery on 1/28/13
  • St. Giles, Richmond, Va., 375 members, dismissed from James Presbytery on 6/18/13
  • First, Kingwood, Texas, 1,611 members, dismissed by New Covenant Presbytery on 6/8/13
  • Darlington, Darlington, S.C., 407 members, New Harmony Presbytery recognized congregation’s 2012 disaffiliation on 5/14/13
  • First, Florence, S.C., 800 members, dismissal by New Harmony Presbytery became effective 1/1/13
  • First, Amarillo, Texas, 1,043 members, voted to disaffiliate from PCUSA on 10/23/13
  • Mt. Lebanon United, Mt. Lebanon, Pa., 700 members, dismissed by Pittsburgh Presbytery on 12/7/13
  • First, Sibley, Iowa, 420 members, dismissed by Prospect Hill Presbytery on 2/23/13
  • Church of the Valley, Apple Valley, Calif., 400 members, dismissed by Riverside Presbytery on 11/16/13
  • Centerville, Fremont, Calif, 375 members, dismissed by San Francisco Presbytery on 6/25/13
  • Sierra Vista, Oakhurst, Calif., 342 members, dismissed by San Joaquin Presbytery on 5/18/13
  • Adventure of the Faith, Port Orchard, Wash., 444 members, dismissed by Seattle Presbytery on 9/17/13
  • Maple Valley, Maple Valley, Wash., 564 members, dismissed by Seattle Presbytery on 9/17/13
  • East Main, Grove City, Pa., 694 members, dismissed by Shenango Presbytery on 2/26/13
  • Saxe Gotha, Lexington, S.C., 1,336 members, dismissed by Trinity Presbytery on 10/8/13

Related articles:

Presbyterian Church’s realignment persisting

 Presbyterian sheep shifting; as the lost remain lost

2012 statistics show dramatic decrease in PCUSA membership, congregations

Addressing the rumor that the PCUSA is going out of business anytime soon

 

About the author: Paula R. Kincaid

Paula R. Kincaid is the editor of The Layman and The Layman Online. She has been employed by the Presbyterian Lay Committee since March 3, 1998. She lives in Hudson, N.C.

29 comments

  1. GQ says:

    I have a confession to make. As soon as I saw the new membership numbers I gleefully reached for my calculator and started to crunch the numbers. I also confess being disappointed that the losses weren’t much larger, only 162,000. I assumed it would have been much larger. Looking back over the last 10 years I noticed it has actually fluctuated between 150,000 and 180,000. So how come our net #’s have been declining so rapidly? The real problem is in the Gains! While the losses have fluctuated, the gains are down 45% over the last 10 years. With the new report showing just 3 years, gains are down over 18%. The most alarming # was for Professions of Faith, etc, 18 and over; down 31% in just 3 years. Carmen in the article above is right. Revival is needed. I remember one very wise man describe how to start a revival. Stand up, take a piece of chalk in your hand and make a circle around where you are standing. That’s where the revival is going to begin.

  2. Mateen Elass says:

    The point, GQ, is that if the Church no pertinent message distinguishable from the culture around it, it will feel little need to reach the joggers, shoppers, Sunday coffee drinkers who don’t give it a second thought. Only when the Church believes its message is of eternal importance, and human destinies hang in the balance, will it find the love and motivation to reach beyond itself. Unfortunately, it seems the PCUSA has defaulted to a this-worldly social gospel of justice and solidarity, and is expending its efforts seeking to reshape the political, economic, ecological, and educational forces of this world in the vain hope that somehow its utopian vision (which it falsely equates with the Kingdom of God) will be finally and permanently established. When was the last time you heard the concern emanating from Louisville that millions are on the verge of an eternity in hell unless they embrace the gospel, and that it is the calling of believers to proclaim that gospel in word and deed for the eternal salvation of the lost? The numerical decline of the PCUSA is only a symptom of a deeply spiritual sickness — the denomination has lost the biblical message and is promoting an anemic, truncated gospel, which is no gospel at all, in my opinion.

    • GQ says:

      Mateen, God has blessed you with a much finer mind than mine. You have great insight and eloquence. My heart tells me Jesus wants us all to do more with the gifts He has given us than to just wring our hands and say how terrible the PC(USA) is. Paul urged us to focus on what is noble, pure and of good report. Carmen is quoted in the article above saying “Revival is needed.” She couldn’t be more correct!

  3. Peter Gregory says:

    Or to put it another way, the Presbyterians have been in structural decline for close to 3 centuries. In the 1790 census, almost 1 in 6 adults in the original 13, would call themselves reformed/presbyterian/or some other like faith orientation. If Presbyterians had only kept up with population growth, there should be about 51 million Presbyterians now. What happened? The same thing that happened to the Quakers who actually outnumbered Presbyterians in 1800. They fought, fought some more, went down some odd paths, fractured, fractured some more. But most importantly, they forgot whom and what they were, and their relationship to the culture. When a faith, church, denomination becomes indistinguishable from the culture, society around it. why have that church and what purpose does it serve?

    To call the current PCUSA the “State” church of the elite liberal establishment, with no real distance between themselves and the Democratic National Committee is not too far off base. Which is why you see people jogging, running with their dogs, shopping on Sundays, whatever. They vote, at times. They watch MSNBC at times, they give to their favorite charities, they think of themselves as “good” people. Why go to church and what purpose does it serve?

    • GQ says:

      Oh, Peter, I fear you may be demonstrating my point. God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. While demonizing the liberal elite and the DNC you are still not seeing the Sunday joggers and shoppers as the “lost sheep” we are to reach out to. Revival was mentioned in the article. That is what is called for. Not finger pointing.

  4. GQ says:

    We are falling into the trap of focusing on “the bottom line” of PC(USA) numbers. Much more is to be gained by looking at all this from God’s viewpoint. All these numbers relate to an institution. Does God care if a person (or a church) switches to another denomination? How much does God care about an institution? As long as we focus on ourselves we will fail to see the bigger picture. In the 10 years that we have gone from 2.4 million to 1.7 million what has happened to the population of the United States? Think about the number of baptized Christians in the area you serve that are no longer an active part of the Body of Christ. As I drive to church on Sunday morning the streets have loads of joggers and walkers, but hardly anyone walking to church. The parking lot at the supermarket is full and the Methodist church I pass has only 7 cars. The opportunities are growing every year, but we will never see it as long as we are only looking at ourselves.

  5. Jim Caraher says:

    There’s quite a lot of speculation in this conversation on when the PC(USA) will suffer its final demise. However the reality is that the denomination will never disappear completely because of its great wealth. The Presbyterian Foundation alone, only one of many PC(USA) entities, reports that it distributed $63 million to mission in 2012, its latest reported year. Eventually the PC(USA) will shrink to a hollow shell of its former self resembling a once prominent PC(USA) church in downtown Philadelphia. A well-paid minister bravely preached to an empty sanctuary in that church for years because the income from the endowment kept the doors open and the lights on. The correct prediction on the PC(USA)’s future is that it will soldier on in a shrunken state until Jesus returns living off the accumulated wealth of those who mistakenly believed that bequeathing their money to the PC(USA) would advance the cause of Jesus in American life and culture. Meanwhile non-PC(USA) Presbyterians (EPC, PCA, ECO) will be the inheritors of an inheritance far more valuable than dead people’s money – the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

  6. Peter Gregory says:

    If you apply a little regression analysis, you arrive at the theoretical date of about June 2031, win the last PCUSA person dies, leaves, drops out. 15 years or so. Now will that actually happen? I think around the end of the this decade membership losses will flatten a bit and the PCUSA settles out about 600K. But prior to that time they will be in merger with the UCC, and/or Unitarians, or individual churches will just spin out into other relationships. Either way, put a fork in it, they are dead, just do not know it yet.

  7. Pastor Bob says:

    What does it mean to “believe in science?”. Is that the narrow way that leads to heaven? Weirdo!

  8. Miriam Shelton says:

    It seems that it would be appropriate to name the pastors of the churches that leave the denomination. I have heard it said many times that the votes to leave the PCUSA are not usually driven by lay persons asking to leave, but pastors leading their congregations out. Thus, the simple addition of the pastors’ names would fill out the picture of what the exit from the denomination involves. Also, while I’m at it, I don’t understand why the exit of persons or even congregations who want to join another denomination is portrayed as “death” for the denomination. I am pretty sure those churches don’t see their action as “dying” and the denomination shouldn’t feel it’s “dying” because those who don’t’ feel they belong are going where they do belong. This whole issue is being “spinned” outrageously. This article itself is spinning a healthy shift in allegiances as though it were a sign of evil. Pretty ridiculous, I’d say. Let life happen wherever and wherever it does. Jesus didn’t invent denominations, but is active in ordinary and unordinary places.

    • David says:

      A couple of points:
      -Not all Churches leave because of a pastor leading the way. A couple recent examples in Texas are Highland Park and Grace Presbyterian who both have interim pastors, so the Sessions of those Churches are definitely leading the way.
      -If the denomination membership was just declining because of Churches leaving I would agree that that would not be as big a deal. But even if you take away the loss of membership due to departing Churches, the denomination is still losing members, and has been doing so since the 60′s. If this trend does not change, the denomination will eventually cease to exist.
      -I agree with your point that we should worry less about denominations and just look for the places Jesus is working in our lives and come alongside him. The Devil probably had some hand in the creation of denominations and uses them very effectively to divide the body of Christ.

    • Mateen Elass says:

      Miriam,
      As the pastor of a church that has left the PCUSA for ECO, I would have no problem with my name being listed alongside my church. However, I would challenge your assumption, which is based upon hearsay (“I have heard it said many times…”), that most congregational departures are driven by the pastor. That certainly wasn’t true in our case. The congregation had already had significant talks about departure 3 years before I arrived on the scene, and it didn’t actually vote to leave until after I’d been here over 5 years. It was a lengthy and thoughtful process. Anytime a congregation votes on a serious matter and has over 80% in favor, I think it would be pretty disingenuous to claim that the pastor “drove” the decision (unless you believe that Presbyterians are mindless sheep). In our case, the vote turned out to be over 94% in favor of departure. If you want to know why churches are leaving, it’s best to talk with people from those churches, and not with “party-line kibitzers” on the sidelines far removed from congregational realities.

      On the question of whether it is appropriate to speak of the PCUSA as a denomination that is dying, I suppose that is a matter of perspective. The facts do not lie with regard to membership loss — over the last 48 years (since 1965) the PCUSA has suffered net losses in membership every year. Ranging most years between one and two percent, only in the last 6 years running (as well as in 1973) has the denomination lost over 3% annually. In fact, in the last two years (2012 and 2013) the figures have been 5.2% and 4.8% respectively. To try to make that appear healthy would require the kind of outrageous “spin” that you so rightly deplore. Does that mean the PCUSA is dying? Time will tell.

      Imagine a loved one in the hospital, emaciated after a long span of steady but unexplained weight loss. Suddenly, the patient begins to lose even more weight at a more precipitous rate than before. If the doctor on the case were to say, “We’ve got to find a way to reverse this pattern soon, or the patient will die,” would you find that an unreasonable statement? Metaphorically speaking, the PCUSA has lost 59% of its weight since its heyday in 1965. The coming years portend equally radical declension in numbers as the last 6 years, particularly if the upcoming GA is swayed further to the left in its social and political decisions. No one, perhaps, knows with certainty when a denomination can be declared dead, but ineffective/fatigued/somnolent/crippled/paralyzed/comatose/moribund are all adjectives which might sadly apply. Is the PCUSA capable of recovering from being in ICU, or has God already transferred her to hospice care? Only time will tell.

      • e. lee says:

        The fact is that the sheep will not follow those that have left the truth of God’s word. When will they awaken to that fact and repent of the ignorant and arrogant leadership found in the hierarchy of the PCUSA? Of course, I would agree that birds of the feather will flock together and they will merge with other denominations that have extreme left wing agendas. Sorry but I saw that coming and bailed out of that denomination.

      • andrew fincke says:

        Mateen, Mateen!
        “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Mat. 4:4 = Luke 4:4) Furthermore, John 7:38: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”
        From Overture 04-03 of the Presbytery of Grace:

        • Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, Israel’s strict control of the water sector in the occupied territories has prevented water development to meet Palestinian water needs, and caused shortages and a water-quality crisis.
        • Israel has neglected construction of infrastructure to connect the Palestinian rural population to a running water network as well as proper maintenance of existing networks. In 2008, 227,500 Palestinians in 220 towns and villages were not connected to a water network. Another 190,000 Palestinians are only partially served.
        • Of the water available from West Bank aquifers, Israel uses 83 percent, (10 percent for illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank and 73 percent residents in Israel). West Bank Palestinians use the remaining 17 percent.
        • Israel generally restricts Palestinian water use to the municipal and limited commercial and industrial sectors by limiting the extraction of groundwater for agricultural irrigation purposes.
        • In the West Bank, about 50 groundwater wells and more than 200 cisterns have been destroyed or isolated from their owners by construction of the separation barrier, affecting the domestic and agricultural needs of more than 122,000 people.
        • Only 7 percent of the water in the Gaza Strip meets World Health Organization standards.
        • West Bank Palestinian water consumption is 40 liters per day less than the minimum global standards set by the World Health Organization.

        Why was the Samaritan woman up there drawing water? Because the Israelis had their finger on the tap. Why was she prostituting herself to our Lord and Savior? For a sip of what the Jews denied her. What did she get? SALVATION. The denomination is our best hope of getting the gospel to the starving Palestinians and the whole Near East.

  9. Don says:

    Twice this week, in this thread and one other, I’ve made the mistake of engaging in dialogue with those who are clearly on this site for the purpose of stirring the proverbial pot. I apologize to regular readers of The Layman; I won’t make the mistake again. In fact, I think it would be a good thing for me to drop out of making comments on this site for the rest of June. That won’t be easy, with the GA coming up next week; but I’ve posted too many comments lately, and it’s time for a break. I’ll be following the stories, though, and reading the comments of other faithful readers.

  10. Pastor Bob says:

    Speaking about Parson’s “positive spin” here is what I’ve observed in my region: The majority of the pastors and almost all of the leaders in the presbyteries, define “success” as “God doing a new thing,” and that success is never measured by numbers. “Success” is instead measured by some nebulous concept that if the church’s theological actions are more in line with liberal political and social policies and practices, the more “successful” the congregation.

    I always try to counter this flawed reasoning by encouraging the person to go back and re-study the Great Commission and the entirety of The Book of Acts.

  11. z says:

    Splits, re-alignments, schisms, whatever:
    http://www.history.pcusa.org/sites/default/files/connection_900.jpg

    Not that we do, but *IF* one accepted the storyline that plays out here in the Layman and elsewhere, one would believe that somewhere in the previous century after one re-unification following previous splits, there were well over 4 million Presbyterians, a small minority of whom were “progressives” and the majority “right thinking” as you would see it. Now we have a PCUSA with less that two million members, a majority of whom are “progressive” with the “right thinkers” now a minority of the PCUSA along with members of a couple small denominations and some tiny splinter groups. Anyone looking at the numbers would see accepting your “storyline” implies that among all those calling themselves Presbyterians the so-called progressives have been more or less holding steady while the non-progressives have been in steep decline.

    • Don says:

      Not sure where you’re going with all that, but I think some of your assumptions are wrong. The Presbyterian Panel Surveys show that, for Presbyterians in the pews, Republicans outnumber Democrats by a significant margin. It seems fair to assume at least a rough correlation between those party affiliations and what you label (sarcastically, I guess) “right thinkers” and “progressives”. But among pastors – and particularly “specialized pastors” – Democrats far outnumber Republicans –somewhere between 2.5:1 and 4:1. It’s a pretty clear picture of a right-of-center church membership being governed at GA and synod and presbytery by left-of-center leaders.

      It is a safe bet that most (certainly not all) people leaving the denomination are conservative, though; so unless something changes dramatically, there will eventually be a much smaller, and more uniformly liberal, PCUSA.

      • z says:

        Am definitely not sure what Republican or Democrat has to do with anything. Plenty of Republicans believe in science, support equal rights for LGBT people, are not inerrancyliteralists …

    • Mateen Elass says:

      “z”,
      I think one of the flaws in your thinking is that the PCUSA has always been made up of two groups principally, evangelicals and liberals, and that in former times the former were a majority, and the latter a small minority. I believe it is true to say that in earlier days evangelicals outnumbered liberals in the PCUSA, but both were minority groups among a third class — sometimes described as the “mushy middle,” those without much conviction, who just want to remain card-carrying Presbyterians. If that is true, then as evangelicals leave in larger numbers what is left will be a flock of the passive being driven by the whips of the liberal activists. Only if the passive get tired of being flogged to agree with the increasingly heterodox agenda of the liberals in control will the denomination continue to shrink after all the evangelicals have tired of trying to pump out the waters surging into a sinking ship. In any case, the 40 year trend numerically from 1974-2014 does not present a pretty or hopeful picture.

      • z says:

        Except it is not *my* thinking… as I said this conclusion would be valid “…*IF* one accepted the storyline that plays out here in the Layman…” Note that Mr. Don even wants to go a couple steps beyond that and identify this with Democrats and Republicans.

        That being said, I doubt that anyone has any evidence that the number of so-called “progressive” Presbyterians has been declining.

        • Mateen Elass says:

          I don’t think you’re getting the “Layman’s storyline” correct. And I don’t see anywhere the claim by the Layman or conservatives generally that the number of liberals in the PCUSA is on the decline. Proportionate to the decline in overall membership, the percentage of liberal Christians is no doubt on the rise. Cold comfort that is, though, in a dwindling denomination, unless liberals want to chase out everyone who doesn’t think like they do. If that’s the case, they appear to be increasingly successful.

  12. Robert McClelland says:

    If any other organization posted the losses that the PC(USA) has over the last decade, the entire leadership would have been fired and the company would have had to reboot/realign with its priorities.
    I am not sure how Grady continues to try to put a positive spin on the unhealthy death taking place around him. And as I write this, I am preparing to go to a screening of the new film, “when God left the building” but group publishing. One of the churches documented is a PCUSA church on the east coast in the throws of decline, and with a pastor who admits he does not know God. How do we continue to wrestle with why decline is taking place? We know why. God left the building when his people departed from him theologically and faithfully.
    And not one mention of the impending losses when definition of marriage is changed in Detroit? Wow.

  13. Jim Berkley says:

    Churches “spend” an average of $82,125.42 per baptism across the denomination. Divide total baptisms into total income to get that figure. Of course, a church doesn’t “buy” baptisms, but one would think that with that many dollars flowing through churches, a little more evangelism would be happening.

  14. Don says:

    Carmen makes a key point in the article. A quick count of members in disaffiliated congregations raises the membership loss from 89 thousand to 97 thousand. Grace Presbytery, for example, is still reporting Highland Park and its 4,800 members on Grace’s roll; but Highland Park is gone, and it’s not coming back.

  15. Mateen Elass says:

    Another way to drive home what Don notes (10% loss of membership in the last 2 years!) is this: over the last 40 years (since 1974), the PCUSA has only had 6 years where the net membership decline has been 3% or greater — all of them the last six years in a row from 2008-2013, and the last two worst of all. Why the reason for this doesn’t sink in with Gradye and others in leadership is one of the great and sad mysteries of life.

    • Harper Brady says:

      The two years with the least percentage decline in that period were the two years right after “fidelity/chastity” was put into the Book of Order. Note the significant increase in percentage decline since the deletion of “fidelity’chastity” in 2010 – the highest decline rate. Perhaps there’s a correlation.

  16. Don says:

    Despite Parson’s attempts, there’s really no way to put a positive spin on a 10% membership loss in two years.

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