Churches

Christian Piatt 7-17-2012
Collapsed church, Pattie Steib / Shutterstock.com

Collapsed church, Pattie Steib / Shutterstock.com

I was having lunch with another couple in ministry that shared a disturbing story with us. The problem isn’t so much in the uniqueness of the story they told, but rather in how incredibly common it is.

The couple had connections to a congregations several hours away that is located in the heart of a thriving urban center. The aging congregation was down to only 40 regular attendees and had released all of their paid staff, opting instead for volunteers to lead worship for them when they could secure them.

Meanwhile, they gathered in a building, valued at roughly $9 million, which they could not afford to maintain.

This church, like so many others, seeks answers to questions about how to survive in an increasingly secular, disparate, and religiously wary culture. Their hope, like plenty of other churches, is that something or someone will come along to save them, keep the institution going and propel them into the future for another century.

Oh, as long as they don’t have to change.

Smoke billows from Christ the King Catholic Cathedral in Zaria, Nigeria.

Smoke billows from Christ the King Catholic Cathedral in Zaria, Nigeria after a suicide bomb attack on June 17. By AFP/Getty.

Ongoing violence in Nigeria has exacerbated tensions between the country's Muslims and Christians. Nigeria has equal numbers of Christians and Muslims, and 92 percent of the country's population says they pray every day, according to a 2010 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Hundreds of Christians and Muslims have died this year alone, including scores killed last weekend (July 7-8) when Muslim militants attacked Christian villages in the nation’s central plateau, where the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian south meet.

Read five things you should know about the violence in Nigeria inside the blog...

Sandi Villarreal 7-12-2012
SNAP stats illustration. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

SNAP stats illustration. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

A common rationalization those in religious circles make for cutting social programs that help the poor is that church should be the one helping “the least of these,” not the government. But if we know that’s not possible given the church’s means, that millions will get left behind because our efforts fall far too short, is that still a logical line of defense? Jesus told us to care for the poor, sick, and vulnerable—he didn’t prescribe how.

Sometimes Jesus healed people one-on-one. Sometimes he addressed the needs of a multitude by providing enough food to feed them all. Sometimes he sent others in his stead to provide healing. 

If we ignore the needy in our midst by getting rid of one huge way to address that need, we are not following Jesus’ example.

Tom Ehrich 7-10-2012
Paris chapel, Justin Black / Shutterstock.com

Paris chapel, Justin Black / Shutterstock.com

Although church conventions tend to get attention for decisions on sexuality and gender, I am more intrigued by a movement among Episcopalians to sell their national headquarters building in New York City.

Whether the shrinking national staff would leave "815" (815 Second Avenue) or remain as tenants isn't clear. Nor is it clear where they would go next if they left. Suggestions range from a large cathedral property (New York or Washington, D.C.) to a middle-of-the-country site. (Presbyterians chose Louisville, Ky., when they made a similar decision in the late 1980s.)

As a cost-cutting measure, a building sale strikes me as unpromising. Nor am I persuaded by anti-Gotham arguments. Having a church center here isn't a "Babylonian captivity" or the last relic of an "imperial dream," as critics put it.

Mallory McDuff 7-06-2012
Climate change illustration, red-feniks / Shutterstock.com

Climate change illustration, red-feniks / Shutterstock.com

Sister Kathy Long turned toward my 13-year-old daughter and asked one question: “What will you tell your friends about spending this month in Mexico?”

In a public park in Cuernavaca, Mexico, we sat on a concrete bench next to six women who chatted and stitched embroidery patterns with brightly colored thread.

I glanced toward the sewing group, realizing that Maya would have rolled her eyes if I had asked her that same question. An intrusive query from a mother seemed compelling coming from a Catholic nun who worked in Mexico, promoted justice amid poverty, and even spent three months in jail for protesting the military training of Latin American leaders in the U.S.

“I will tell them that rich people and poor people are all people in the end,” Maya responded. “If you have three cars and two houses, you are a person just like someone whose house is made of cardboard or metal.”

Leaders of Christian Churches Together in the USA, a 10-year-old network aimed at promoting interchurch collaboration, have chosen a Presbyterian ecumenical associate as their new executive director.

The Rev. Carlos Malave, who worked for the Presbyterian Church (USA) for 11 years, said CCT is trying to adapt in the challenging realm of ecumenical relations.

The National Council of Churches and Churches Uniting in Christ, two decades-old groups focused on church unity, have been dealing with financial and leadership woes. While scholars, such as those who gathered in April in Assisi, Italy, have grappled with what they consider an "ecumenical winter," Malave says CCT is successfully using new methods as the church adjusts to post-modernism.

Christian Piatt 7-01-2012

I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry, but it’s true. We’re 20 weeks into the Church Sign Epic Fails series and going strong.

Always good to pick fights on your church sign.

QR Blog Editor 6-29-2012

Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Christianity Today reports:

More than 60 churches that faced possible eviction Sunday from New York City public schools should have more room to breathe. The churches will be allowed to continue to meet in public schools, thanks to a permanent injunction issued today from a district court judge.

An ongoing conflict between religious organizations and the Department of Education kept churches in limbo over the right to keep using public school buildings for worship services. New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn blocked a vote to allow houses of worship access to school property. The resolution saw support from 31 of 51 council members, but the state legislative session ended this week, the Queens Chronicle reported.

Read the full report HERE.

Tom Ehrich 6-20-2012
people pushing image via Accent  / Shutterstock

people pushing image via Accent / Shutterstock

Imagine the moral authority that church leaders could exercise if they turned their eyes outward to a needy world, rather than endlessly surveying the insider crowd for what they want and are willing to pay for.

Imagine if we allowed worship to change in order to make it more accessible to the world. Imagine devoting our resources to reaching younger adults and families seeking fresh purpose in a stale world. Imagine buildings being re-purposed for community needs. 

Imagine a church that was giving itself away to the "least of these." And when givers push back, imagine lay and clergy leaders saying boldly, "This church isn't for sale. We have a larger purpose than keeping you happy and comfortable. This church isn't about us. It is about God and the next people whom God is trying to reach."

Daniel Burke 6-19-2012
Address bar photo, Diego Cervo / Shutterstock.com

Address bar photo, Diego Cervo / Shutterstock.com

Religious groups have long vied for prime parcels of land, planting churches on town squares and monasteries amid isolated mountains. But now they’re targeting real estate in a less tangible sphere: cyberspace.

For the first time in its history, the international nonprofit that doles out generic Internet domain names such as “.com” and “.edu” will allow more specific web address extensions like “.church.”

Hundreds of companies, Internet entrepreneurs and cities submitted nearly 2,000 applications, seeking the right to own everything from .app to .zulu, the Britain-based International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers announced last on June 14.

Religion News Service file photo courtesy of George Martell/RCAB

Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley on Sept. 2, 2009. Religion News Service file photo courtesy of George Martell/RCAB

Groups of Boston-area Catholics who have waged an eight-year battle to block the sale of parish buildings are running out of options as the Vatican has rejected their appeals.

In rulings dated March through May, Rome's Congregation for the Clergy upheld the Archdiocese of Boston's plans to convert six parish buildings from sacred to profane (non-church) use.

Now parishioners, including vigil keepers who've occupied two church buildings round-the-clock since a wave of parish closures began in 2004, must decide whether to appeal one more time to the Vatican's top court.

Michael O'Malley 5-18-2012
RNS photo by Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer

Phillis and Phillip Clipps pray during Mass at the Community of St. Peter in Cleveland. RNS photo by Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer

 It's been nearly a month since Bishop Richard Lennon announced he would reopen 12 closed churches, but so far no shuttered sanctuaries have been resurrected.

As they wait, parishioners from some of the moribund parishes have begun organizing committees in preparation for the reopenings, which the diocese says are in process, although there's no official timetable.

At St. Mary Catholic Church in suburban Bedford, parishioners have formed a parish council, a finance committee and a music committee. And they have tied blue and white bows and a "Welcome Home" sign on the front of their church.

"We've got our committees organized," said St. Mary parishioner Carol Szczepanik. "We're just waiting for the bishop."

Social media illustration, Adchariyaphoto / Shutterstock.com

Social media illustration, Adchariyaphoto / Shutterstock.com

Christ Fellowship exemplifies most of the latest ways churches dramatically extend their reach of church beyond any one time or local address. Such congregations signal "a willingness to meet new challenges," said Scott Thumma, of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. He's the author of a study by Faith Communities Today (FACT) of how churches, synagogues and mosques use the Internet and other technology.

FACT's national survey of 11,077 of the nation's 335,000 congregations, released in March, found seven in 10 U.S. congregations had websites, and four in 10 had Facebook pages by 2010, Thumma says.

Joshua Witchger 3-26-2012
Image via The Faith Community of St. Sabina, www.stsabina.org.

Image via The Faith Community of St. Sabina, www.stsabina.org.

Christians and other people of good faith nationwide stood in solidarity with Trayvon Martin this weekend by wearing hooded sweartshirts — aka "hoodies"— to church.  

Monday marks the one-month anniversary of Trayvon's slaying in Sanford, Florida at the hands of neighborhood "watchman" Gregory Zimmerman, who shot and killed the 17-year-old African-American boy in “self defense” for “looking suspicious” while dressed in a hooded sweatshirt.

Trayvon was unarmed, carrying only a package of Skittles, an iced tea and his cell phone.

Last week, people across the nation began wearing hoodies to work, school, and community marches in response to Trayvon's slaying and the injustice of the kind of racial profiling that it would appear directly led to it. On Sunday, many churches took that vision a step further as pastors and congregants donned hoodies and wore them to church for what some congregations called "Hoodie Sunday."

Annalisa Musarra 3-22-2012
Collection plate and bible, Wellford Tiller, Shutterstock.com

Collection plate and bible, Wellford Tiller, Shutterstock.com

WASHINGTON--Even as membership remains relatively stable in U.S. churches, the effects of the recession have caused contributions to drop by $1.2 billion.

According to the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, the almost $29 billion contributed by church members represented a 2.2 percent decrease in terms of per capita giving.

The $1.2 billion decline in 2010 was nearly three times as large as the $431 million in losses reported in 2009, and "provides clear evidence of the impact of the deepening crises in the reporting period," the Yearbook's editor, the Rev. Eileen Lindner, wrote.

The Yearbook is produced annually by the National Council of Churches and is considered one of the most authoritative sources of church membership. The 2010 figures, released Tuesday (March 20), were collected from 228 U.S. denominations in 2011.

the Web Editors 2-10-2012

The Obama Administration announced earlier today a change to its policy regarding conscience exemptions and contraception coverage for faith based organizations.

Sojourners released the following statement:

We applaud the Obama Administration’s decision to respond to the concerns of many in the faith community around respecting religious liberty. This compromise respects the conscience concerns of those persons and institutions opposed to the use of contraception while still allowing greater access to those services for women who seek it. Expanded access to contraception is important for women’s health and is a key part of our country’s efforts to prevent unintended pregnancies and thereby reduce abortions.

Christian Piatt 1-19-2012
The Devil Inside movie poster.

The Devil Inside movie poster.

This is a touchy subject for me, as I am a strong advocate of bringing cultural criticism and dialogue into the church, and I’m equally supportive of churches having frank forums where they deal with issues of sex and sexuality. But there is a distinct, if not fine, line between stretching a church to be relevant and jumping on the latest trend simply to draw attention to yourself.

Yes, I know religious institutions are collectively flipping out about the decreasing number of attendees and increased number of church closures. The fact is that some churches will do the world more good once closed than they’re doing today. This is not to say they’re doing active harm (though I’m sure some are), but rather that the tireless, copious use of resources – both human and financial – to prop up dying institutions is to point to one’s self rather than toward God. We get hung up on the idea that the former is a necessary means to the latter end, but not necessarily. Like a fallow field, sometimes it’s best to take what is left, turn it into the ground and allow it to be reborn into something entirely new.

Jack Palmer 12-14-2011

Person Of The Year - The Protester; Newt Gingrich's Vision For The Impoverished -- A Reflection Of Our Values (OPINION); Teaching About HIV/AIDS In The Church; Catholic Bishops: Don’t Treat Illegal Immigrants As Criminals; Christianity 2.0; Keystone Pipeline A Tough Decision For Obama; How Many Innocent People Are In Prison?

Carrie Adams 12-02-2011

Social Muddle: Business, Justice, and the Gospel are Already Social; Obama Refers to His Christian Faith During National Tree Lighting Ceremony; Fount of Blessing, Fount of Youth: Age and the American Church; One-Third of Shelter Residents Are Newly Homeless; U.S. Unemployment Rate Falls to Lowest Level in Nearly Three Years; Gingrich Says Poor Children Have No Work Habits; For Afghan Woman, Justice Runs Into Unforgiving Wall of Custom.

Jack Palmer 11-17-2011

As Injured Vets Return Home, Churches Reach Out. Occupy Wall Street Gears Up For The Big Day. Faith Overtones In Occupy Protests But Leaders Wary. OpEd: How The First Amendment Got Hijacked. Religious Groups Offer Help To Evicted Protesters. OpEd: What Happens When A Seminary Is Occupied? Religious Voices Loud And Clear At Keystone XL Protests. Iowa Scientists Ask Candidates To Acknowledge Climate Change. And Below The Line: Portraits Of American Poverty.

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