Responses to More Questions About Parish Merging
Q. Why don’t we close the three churches and build one new central church that is efficient to operate, and will meet the needs of the future?
R. This is a question the Exploratory Committee discussed, at least briefly. In other merger situations in our diocese and around the country where this option has been chosen, it would usually be selected in part for the following reasons: the size of the existing parish church buildings would not adequately accommodate the merged parish community, and/or the existing church buildings are all in poor condition. The Exploratory Committee and I did not believe these things to be the case for our churches. As for size, each of our churches has only one weekend Mass, and they are seldom ever full. If, in the distant future, maintaining all our buildings would become unsustainable (which would be just as, if not more, likely if the parishes remained separate), one church could easily accommodate the whole parish. While all of our parish campuses have some significant maintenance issues that will need to be addressed in the coming years, all of our church buildings have been reasonably well maintained. For these reasons alone, building one new church for the merged parish does not seem to be a worthwhile prospect.
Q. As stated in the list of the benefits of a possible merged parish [proposed by the Exploratory Committee and printed in the October 16, 2016 bulletin], “if three separate parishes remain, we would still have to face the greater likelihood of one or more of them closing in the future if they are not sufficiently supported by the decreasing number of practicing parishioners.” This seems to imply that, even in the event of a merged parish, a church could still be closed. Are we not just prolonging an inevitable closure?
R. Unless there is a significant change in the demographics of our area and the general decline in practice of the Faith in our society, we will always face the possibility of not being able to maintain all of our church buildings in the future. Let’s say for instance that there is no merger, and three separate parishes remain for the future. If one or more of the parishes become no longer viable, a parish closure would likely result. Parish closures are always difficult. The remaining parishioners are forced to join another neighboring parish, and it also happens frequently enough that people, out of anger and frustration, stop practicing the Faith altogether.
Now, let’s say our three parishes were to merge into one parish. We have the opportunity to come to know each other better and work together as a community with a common mission and vision. As one unified parish community, it is still possible that maintaining all of our churches may become unsustainable at some point in the future. As one community, you may be faced with some hard decisions, but you will be able to make them together. Also worth noting is the fact that younger generations are more mobile and generally not as attached to certain places and buildings as our older generations tend to be. In a merger, we will be giving our future generations more to work with to make their own decisions about what is best for their/our parish. The merger allows for such changes, if necessary, to happen more organically and with less “collateral damage” than if we choose to close a church prematurely.