(Phil. Inquirer) Empty sacred spaces become white elephants

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Hunger, health care, and urban violence are the usual subjects of concern when the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia gathers for its semiannual meetings.

But at the spring 2011 session, a new topic was cast into the mix: real estate.

A member noted that he was grappling with a growing stock of vacant churches. Hoping for a solution from his high-placed peers at the conference table, he got instead a chorus of me-toos.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Bishops* Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureUrban/City Life and Issues

7 Comments
Posted August 18, 2012 at 4:06 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Sarah wrote:

Oh dear.

In the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, comprising Philadelphia and the four suburban counties, there are nine closed churches. Each costs an annual average of $55,000 to maintain.
“That’s nearly half a million dollars we’re not putting toward meeting human needs,” said Bennison. “God must look down and say, ‘Where’s the gospel in this?’ “

Oh I don’t think God is wondering where the “gospel” [sic] is in your diocese, Bishop Bennison.  Had you troubled yourself about the Gospel perhaps you wouldn’t be spending half a million dollars a year on maintenance of empty buildings.

What a . . . well . . . I’ll just quote this passage from Huckleberry Finn about a couple of frauds and hucksters:

WELL, all day him and the king was hard at it, rigging up a stage and a curtain and a row of candles for footlights; and that night the house was jam full of men in no time. When the place couldn’t hold no more, the duke he quit tending door and went around the back way and come on to the stage and stood up before the curtain and made a little speech, and praised up this tragedy, and said it was the most thrillingest one that ever was; and so he went on a-bragging about the tragedy, and about Edmund Kean the Elder, which was to play the main principal part in it; and at last when he’d got everybody’s expectations up high enough, he rolled up the curtain, and the next minute the king come a-prancing out on all fours, naked; and he was painted all over, ring-streaked-and-striped, all sorts of colors, as splendid as a rainbow. And—but never mind the rest of his outfit; it was just wild, but it was awful funny. The people most killed themselves laughing; and when the king got done capering and capered off behind the scenes, they roared and clapped and stormed and haw-hawed till he come back and done it over again, and after that they made him do it another time. Well, it would make a cow laugh to see the shines that old idiot cut.

Then the duke he lets the curtain down, and bows to the people, and says the great tragedy will be performed only two nights more, on accounts of pressing London engagements, where the seats is all sold already for it in Drury Lane; and then he makes them another bow, and says if he has succeeded in pleasing them and instructing them, he will be deeply obleeged if they will mention it to their friends and get them to come and see it.

Twenty people sings out:

“What, is it over? Is that all?”

The duke says yes. Then there was a fine time. Everybody sings out, “Sold!” and rose up mad, and was a-going for that stage and them tragedians.

August 18, 8:00 pm | [comment link]
2. Statmann wrote:

Philly is a TEC city with 49 TEC churchess.  IF and WHEN the nine sell or are demolished,  I would preduct the further supply will last a long time.  Statmann

August 18, 10:49 pm | [comment link]
3. Terry Tee wrote:

To turn attention to the RC dimension, I noted in the story that a merger of parishes in Camden diocese has created a parish with 12,000 members.  I know that there are large parishes in the US.  Still, the question arises, how can a pastor meaningfully relate to a parish that size?  It is hardly a community, being so vast.  Troubling.  I think the article should have clarified the extent to which RC closures are due to falling attendances as opposed to shortage of priests.

August 19, 8:59 am | [comment link]
4. Charles52 wrote:

Fr. Tee -

In my part of the U.S. - the southwest - closing parishes is not an issue, primarily due to the Hispanic in-migration, but also folks moving in from the northwest and midwest.  My understanding is that the closures in those parts of the country aren’t so much from overall falling attendance but movement from some parts of cities to other parts, the suburbs, and other parts of the country, like mine.  Yes, the priest shortage is also a factor. My diocese opened a new parish this year for the first time in a decade.  While my parish is thriving (ASA - about 2000), most of the people don’t live within the parish boundaries. It’s not uncommon to drive 20-30 miles for anything around here, so it’s no surprise folks do that for Mass. Still, if boundaries were enforced here, my parish would be in trouble.

We need more, but the problem comes with staffing them.  Our men in formation have grown from 13 to 30+, and we’ve had a fair number of ordinations, but the older guys are retiring as well.

As to pastoral care,  I’m quite comfortable in my parish. Most of my friends are choir members (or used to be), and there are a variety of groups and programs that form small communities. If I need sacramental ministry outside of the regular schedule, I make an appointment. No big deal.

August 19, 1:11 pm | [comment link]
5. MichaelA wrote:

“The soaring steeples, lofty ceilings, vaulted arches, and stained glass that imbue religious structures with a sense of sacred singularity, he said, also make them “difficult to readopt” to other uses.”

Just as long as you remember the fundamental principle - NEVER sell an unused episcopal church to ACNA!

August 19, 7:03 pm | [comment link]
6. Cennydd13 wrote:

Yeah, because you might be embarrassed when faithful Anglicans fill the pews.

August 20, 6:31 pm | [comment link]
7. MichaelA wrote:

I think we would both say “will” be embarrassed, Cennydd rather than “might”!

This is one of the silliest things in Schori’s strategy:  One of the best ways to make a congregation into active church planters is to evict them from their property - once they go through the hassle and trauma of finding new premises, they are more focussed and ready to go through the same process again with a new church plant.  Oh well, what’s done is done.

August 21, 7:19 pm | [comment link]
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