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Churches consolidate in Maryland

Churches consolidate in Maryland

The Baltimore Sun has a story on church closings and consolidations in several denominations including the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Daniel Webster, canon for evangelism and media for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, is quoted.

Webster says, it’s impossible to ignore the repeal of most of the old state blue laws, regulations that had long placed restrictions on commercial activity on Sundays, starting in the mid-20th Century.

Today’s faith leaders must compete with everything from youth soccer and pro football games to shopping at the mall.

“When I was growing up in what I call the salad days of the 1950s and early 1960s, the question in the neighborhood was ‘What church do you go to?’” Webster says.

“Now it’s, ‘Why do you go to church?’”

“We no longer live in Christendom. We really have to accept that it’s a thing of the past.”

What to do about it? Churches are reaching the point where the answer is close or consolidate.

With diocesan membership numbers in decline over the past half-century, the [Episcopal Diocese of Maryland] has closed a net 34 churches from its mid-1960s peak and merged five more, leaving a total of about 100.

Until the arrival of a new pastor last year, Saint John’s in the Village, founded in 1843, was slower to change.

The congregation, which employs a paid choir and practices an unusually formal high Anglican liturgy, spends a sizable portion of its $300,000 budget on maintaining its 159-year-old English Gothic church building.

When a major donor died, it became clear to the incoming priest-in-charge, the Rev. Jeffrey Hual, that other forms of stewardship had badly declined in the congregation. The diocese concluded that shrinking outreach into the community had led to a membership slide.

In his 14 months at the helm, Hual has helped raise more than $220,000, added 18 new members and increased neighborhood efforts, but his efforts may have come too late.

When Sutton met with church leaders in September, he gave them until early November to present him with a feasible financial plan or accept closure.

The deadline has since been extended to January.

Jon Gruber (the economist who was the architect the Massachusetts health insurance law, a pre-cursor to the ACA) and Daniel Hungerman studied the cost of blue laws.

Repealing America’s blue laws not only decreased church attendance, donations and spending, but it also led to a rise in alcohol and drug use among people who had been religious.


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Eric Bonetti

By the way, I know Fr. Hual and he is wonderful. The diocese is very lucky to have him.

Quentin Durward

Political organizations, service organizations, youth organizations, senior organizations, sports, and so on have been around for a long time. They are not the problem.

When the Church sees itself competing in the secular market, it is going to lose because our “competition” is doing what they do best. Put another way, the Church cannot be all things to everyone.

Nowhere is this more clear than politics. When we become political, we diminish our target market by half!

Our diocese sends out a newsletter which looks and reads more like a call to political action than salvation. Photos of priests, in collars and stoles, being arrested accomplishes little but says we can virtue signal with the best (worst) of them. It’s turning people off.

According to the Pew Forum on Religious and Political Life, “This abuse of religion for political purposes has been tremendously damaging for American politics. But it is worth pointing out that it has been destructive of religion, too.”

Tom Downs

In the 1980’s the late bishop Bill Gordon (Alaska and later assistant in Michigan) was sent to close a tiny congregation in rural northern Michigan whose attendance had dwindled to just a handful. They sent him packing. “You couldn’t kill them with a stick.” he said. Right sized well maintained building, hard working lay members, and visiting clergy: they make it work. The congregation is still going and is a vital contributor to the wider community. My conclusion is that when a congregation no longer wants to be the Church, it dies. But don’t bury it until it’s dead.

Ken Albrecht

I think it is too easy to blame the decline in church membership on the repeal of blue laws. Church attendance declined for a number of other reasons. Churches failed to reach out to communities. Churches failed to address social issues. They remained quiet . They didn’t want to rock the boat. The economy made it necessary for families to have both parents work. The only time the family had together was on weekends. This only scratches the surface. When s church is spending more on their buildings than on outreach to the community, they are failing to follow Christ ‘s commandment to go out in world to bring people to Him.

Quentin Durward

Hi Ken!

I’m not sure if I agree or disagree depending upon what you mean “Churches failed to address social issues.” If are referring to “liturgical issues”, yes, of course that is something we must address. However, some say “social issues” and really mean a host of special interests which I think are distractions that undermine our mission. I like what you say about bringing people to Him. Yes this is what we must do which is why I think pushing souls away with special interest activism is a big mistake.

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