There is no doubt that most Christian denominations in the U.S. are experiencing various kinds of slippage, especially membership and attendance decline.
As I say, this is a common story across America -- and has been since at least the 1960s. It's happening for lots of reasons.
But what does it look like from within a single congregation? That's what this Crain's Chicago Business story seeks to show. It focuses in remarkable depth on St. John of the Cross Catholic Church in suburban Western Springs. It describes the parish as "one of the largest and most prosperous parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago, situated in a quiet suburb of $1 million homes, and families with kids who go on to Ivy League and Big Ten universities."
But the archdiocese is undergoing significant change as it tries to consolidate so as to cut financial losses (including millions paid out in the priest sexual abuse scandal) while still serving its Catholic population.
What that means is that a big, relatively rich church like St. John will be affected, too.
As the story reports: "Spurred by a shortage of priests, falling Mass attendance, white flight and financial struggles, the archdiocese plans to close or combine a significant number of parishes in coming years.
"The reorganization is part of a larger multiyear plan, announced by Archbishop Blase Cupich in February, called Renew My Church. It seeks to reinvigorate Catholicism in Chicago by shedding crumbling buildings and reallocating resources in the archdiocese, which covers Cook and Lake counties, 2.2 million Catholics and 347 parishes. The archdiocese's parishes as a whole have long operated at a deficit and finished fiscal 2015 almost $59 million in the red."
It would be nice if all the parishes in that archdiocese were doing well. But they aren't. And that reality can be seen as an insurmountable problem or an opportunity. I hope the folks at St. John view it as the latter and become more deeply engaged with Catholics in parishes across the diocese that are struggling more than St. John is.
There's an opportunity in such situations for ministry, for working with those hurting the most, for responding to others who are hurting a lot more than St. John is hurting.
What about your congregation, if you are a member of one? Is it relatively well off and doing reasonably well? If so, how is it being supportive of other congregations in your religious community that are struggling? Sometimes the mission and ministry field is another Catholic, Methodist or Lutheran church in your same area.
(The graphic here today is from Religion News Service and is based on Gallup information.)
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TIME TO RELEASE VATICAN HOLOCAUST-ERA DOCUMENTS
The visit of Pope Francis to Auschwitz has raised again the question of why the Vatican hasn't released all its World War II era documents related to the Holocaust. As Gerald Posner of The New York Times writes in the article to which I've just linked you, "On the very grounds where the Nazis murdered more than a million victims, most of them Jews, Pope Francis can do much more than have a photo opportunity and offer a generic condemnation of the depths of human depravity. By freeing the Vatican’s Holocaust-era files he will pay a singular and lasting tribute to the dead." It's time. Indeed, past time.