View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Churches to close

The local secular paper has picked up on a story that's actually been out for a few weeks.

The Diocese of Rochester is closing 11 churches - four in the city, and seven in the rest of the diocese. A few more churches may also be added to the list in the coming weeks.

The news story cites the usual reasons - declining numbers of priests, declining attendance, the financial burden of keeping open large buildings that are rarely filled, etc.

These reasons all sadden me, but they are part of the reality we face.

But there was one passage in the article that struck me:

Parishioners feel a sense of loss when churches close, (Bill Pickett, the diocese's director of pastoral planning) said, but perhaps some of the Protestant churches in the city can use the buildings and expand their ministries. "There are booming churches in those areas," he said. "And maybe the kingdom work will increase because our communities are more vital and alive."

Okay. I'm all for increasing the kingdom. I don't think God will object to Protestants (or even Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc.) in heaven.

But why are these churches "booming," and the Catholic church not doing so in those areas?

Perhaps a shift in demographics? The old Europeans that were the heart and soul of Church growth a century ago (Irish, German, Italian and Polish here) have moved out of the city to the suburbs.

However, in the suburbs, the children of those same people are flocking to Protestant churches. I remember once doing an article for our diocesan papper about an Assembly of God church in one of our suburbs where the majority of the parishioners (about 70-75 percent) were former Catholics.

The Catholic pastors of that suburb reacted not by looking at themselves to see what they could do, but by threatening to cancel all their subscriptions to the paper to punish us for writing such a story.

Which may help to explain some of the problems the Catholic Church is facing.

What draws people to these churches? Lively worship, good music, inspired preaching, a welcoming atmosphere, a sense of being involved, etc.

Some of this is superficial in nature. They are entertained. One has to wonder how deep that faith is. How well will those seeds grow?

Still, we can learn something from them.

Certainly better preaching is needed. Music can be improved. We can be more welcoming.

I think one hurdle we have to overcome is clericalism. Catholics are used to "Father" doing everything (with help from "Sister.") I know church leaders are trying to promote lay involvement. Our pastor has been pushing for more of it at our parish. But only a few people respond to his regular calls for volunteers.

Maybe what we need are closings like this to shock people - ordained and lay - into changing their thinking.

My fear though is that the closings will simply lead to more closings and a continued downward spiral.

I guess that's where faith - and lots of praying - come onto play.

Of course, one of the prayers might just be for our leaders to open their eyes, minds and hearts to the promptings of the Spirit.

I have no simple and easy answers. This is certainly a topic that's been bandied about for many years now.

So I will pray. And tomorrow I will sing in the choir. (Hope that doesn't scare off a few people!)


Blogger Steve Bogner said...

My childhood parish church is now a Methodist church. Better put to use as that than a dance club (which I think has happened before).

Preaching counts, as does good liturgy. But what I think a lot of parishes miss is a sense of openness and community. In many Protestant churches, if you are a new face on Sunday then you are drawn into a process of welcoming & initiation. Not so at any Catholic church I've been to.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

That sense of welcoming is indeed something I've experienced in Protestant churches - the Assembly of God Church tat i mentioned for example.

Sadly, I have never experienced it in any Catholic Church.

10:33 PM  

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