Thursday, August 21, 2014

WHAT IF BISHOPS "THOUGHT OUTSIDE THE BOX" WITH INNER CITY HISTORIC CHURCHES THAT NO LONGER HAVE VIABLE PARISHES?

Former Sacred Heart Catholic Church now secular Sacred Heart Cultural Center as it is today, with recently celebrated Protestant wedding there:

In a previous blog post I lamented the possibility of Holy Innocents Church in Manhattan being closed. It seems the sole reason would be the number of other historic churches in the vicinity, perhaps an antipathy toward pre-Vatican II (and now post Vatican II) ways of doing things liturgically and otherwise by chancery personnel, but more likely the mega bucks selling this property to secular business interests would garner. 

Apart from those reasons, we know that around the country, but especially in the northeast and mid west inner city parishes once founded by early 1900's immigrants from western and eastern Europe are no longer viable. The Catholic population has moved to the suburbs and these immigrants have been mainstreamed in their progeny.

So in many city urban cores, there could be several magnificent Catholic edifices within blocks of each other and no resources to maintain them either as parishes or shrines.

Augusta, Georgia had a similar albeit it different scenario in the late 1960's. Downtown had three parishes all within a six to 12 block area. Once was an historically boundary-less black parish with a thriving elementary and high school. They had about 400 families.

The Jesuit parish, Sacred Heart had a thriving parish of about 600 families, an elementary school and money in the bank.

The oldest parish, known as St. Patrick, but historically and officially named The Church of the Most Holy Trinity, had only a historic church building completed in 1863 and a 1950's ranch style rectory next to it. It only had about 70 families. The church was in disrepair.

In closing two of the parishes, it was decided that the black parish's church was way too small for a larger merged, integrated parish. Sacred Heart had a complicated roof that leaked and other structural issues continually needing attention. Most Holy Trinity had a simple roof line, was the oldest, easiest to restore and maintain and had the above ground tombs of 12 priests and the second bishop of Savannah (John Barry) entombed below the altar in an unfinished basement/crawl space.

Most Holy Trinity was chosen. Sacred Heart was closed and a for sale sign placed in front of it and Immaculate Conception Church property was maintained, not as a parish, but the elementary school for the merged parishes. Immaculate Conception was about one mile away from Most Holy Trinity in an historically African American neighborhood.

Most of the parishioners of Sacred Heart were enraged that their church, the most viable was closed and put up for sale. So a significant number of them either left the Catholic Church, cease practicing or attended Mass on the "Hill", Augusta's first suburban parish. Many moved to west Augusta and joined a new parish there also.

Eventually, Sacred Heart was sold, but it took 16 years to do it. It was sold to a entrepreneur philanthropist, a Methodist, whose Episcopalian wife had a special interest in the building.

They formed a board of trustees to completely restore the church, rectory, school and convent. The rectory became an office building for arts in Augusta. The school became the headquarters for the Red Cross and the convent the head quarters for the girl scouts.

The church itself, with pews removed, became a "cultural center" that can be rented out for any use whatsoever, usually wedding, receptions and other civic events. It has been quite successful.

 My question, in terms of thinking outside the box, is why can't bishops around the country promote this sort of thing with Catholics given the lease to the building, commissioned to form a board of trustees, that is broad, ecumenical/interfaith and secular, and this board of trustees be responsible financially and otherwise to restore, maintain and manage the facility as a cultural center for broad use?

Why couldn't the building such as Sacred Heart in Augusta be used exactly for what it is used today, but still under Catholic control through a ecumenical, interfaith, secular board of trustees?

So, my thinking outside the box for these kinds of historic, magnificent Catholic church buildings could allow for the following other a board of trustees controlled scenario:

1. The Blessed Sacrament would not be housed there.
2. It would be managed by a manager answerable to the board of trustees
3. It could be rented out for all the same purposes it currently is to include non-Catholic weddings  whether secular or religious.
4. Catholics would be allowed to have nuptial liturgies there including within Mass as well as Requiems. 
5. Catholics could use it for other religious purposes, special Masses, anniversaries, novenas, Liturgy of the Hours in Solemn Sung ways, ecumenical/interfaith celebrations and the such on a first come, first serve basis in terms of scheduling. 

10 comments:

Pater Ignotus said...

What is the profit/loss situation of Sacred Heart, Augusta?

If a bishop and the Catholic population of a city are struggling to maintain existent Catholic parishes and schools, why should they take on the unnecessary burden of maintaining old buildings?

Are not the financial resources of a community better used in supporting schools, in providing scholarships for needy Catholic children, or in funding social service agencies that feed the poor, house the homeless, provide care for the neglected, and offer shelter to unwed mothers?

If weddings and/or funerals are allowed in cultural centers, what legitimate rationale can be given for not allowing the other sacraments in those locations?

Keeping lovely but entirely needed buildings open is just more "boxed-in" thinking it seems to me.

JusadBellum said...

Speaking of thinking outside the box, and getting ahead of the curve rather than just reacting to events in the 11th hour....

Why are we accepting the cultural status quo as a given rather than actively sitting down to change it?

I speak of course of evangelization. If the total Catholic population was growing due to adult conversions and the next generation growing up Catholic we'd never shutter parishes.

Many folk are talking these days of "intentional discipleship". There's Matthew Kelley's 'dynamic catholicism'. There's the Fr. Barron's Catholicism series. There is this Stewardship campaign that talks up 4 pillars of Catholic living. All these different groups are pointing to the same reality: to the degree Catholicism becomes a romance it thrives. To the degree we treat it solely like a matter of doctrine and rules of a social club, it ossifies and dies.

Saints and martyrs caught the romance. The charismatics catch the romantic ideal. Founders of the great women religious congregations all spoke of Jesus in deeply personal terms and in the present tense as alive and well.

Are we actively treating our core laity as the essential apostles needed to actually convert their peers and teach the faith to the next generation or are we just encouraging them to maintain our parish' status quo in little groups who meet for the sake of simply being entertained?

Is Catholicism a question of ethnic pride (which might be spoken of but can't be shared with non-members except through marriage) or is it a faith that anyone can (and ought) to be introduced to?

We take it for granted that Hispanics are Catholic. Our protestant brothers aren't taking this for granted at all if the protestant Spanish radio stations around Macon are any guide. They're actively recruiting them! Since when have we actively sought to recruit non-Catholics?

The Muslims, gays, and secular hedonists all actively plan, scheme, and strive to recruit allies and converts to their respective causes. They don't accept the status quo as etched in stone and neither should we. Especially us because unlike the rest, God almighty has actually commanded us to make disciples of all the nations.

It's great that St. Joe's has 1,200 families. But how long as the census remained static at roughly 1,200 families? Even if the parish grew at 5% that would show growth but I suspect the parish hasn't actually grown (net) in a decade. In fact, has any parish in the area actually increased in net numbers? If not, why not?

The point of it all is to make disciples of all the nations. If Latin Masses and great architecture helps, great! If charismatics, Marian devotionals, bible studies etc. help, great! But if despite all we do, we're not growing, then we need to seriously sit down as adults and figure out what else we need to do to bring the Gospel to our peers, neighbors, friends, relatives and children.

But this is a parish thing. Not a bishop thing.

In Mexico some pastors have 80,000 people in their parishes. They can't possibly provide confession to so many. But they do as much as they can and then focus on delegation...they form their immediate circle of 50-100 people with the intention of making them as dynamic and well trained as they can...and then each of those core people are encouraged to go out and minister to 50-100 others. Our Lord did the same thing in the multiplication of loaves - he had the men sit in groups of 50-100.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

PI, my point is to set it up exactly as Sacred Heart Cultural Center has done, completely independent from the financial concerns of the institutional diocese or its parishes--so it either sinks or swims on its own endeavors like Sacred Heart Cultural Center (which has broad community support) Catholics would have to pay to going costs for any weddings, funerals, etc. held there.

Allowing this acknowledges the diocese's (any diocese) religious cultural heritage.

Anonymous said...

Fr. McD...I can't help wondering how you decided that a significant number of Catholics left the Church or ceased practicing when Sacred Heart Church in Augusta closed.

Pater Ignotus said...

Good Father - Better, I think, to pull together a board of civic minded citizens who would work, not to preserve an unneeded building, but to provide Catholic education for every Catholic child in a town or city who wants it.

Money raised for maintaining a building for the purpose of holding parties or receptions or the occasional Catholic wedding or funeral is money that does not go to making our schools top quality. It is money that doesn't go to making Catholic education available to Catholic students. It is money that doesn't go to the development of mission parishes that already struggle just to pay the pastor's salary and keep the lights on.

Once all of the needed financial support for the mission of the Church has been raised, only then should we divert money to keeping a building open for frivolous purposes.

rcg said...

I think PI makes a very good point. I also think it is a question, not a barrier. The first issue is to determine what sort of business relationships the die see is allowed or willing to enter into and what they think is. A proper use of the building if it is not as a Catholic Church. I think the answer will lie in an arm length relationship yet with controlling interst of some sort in an entity to run the building. I am looking at that sort of agreement with my Knights of Columbus Hall as they are pathetic at business, but truly dedicated to the Vhurch. We have a bang up hall building that is a great venue but poorly managed.

My parish was a closed parish for a couple of years. It had become a non entity to the degree that it did not even show on the post office address list as a location and the until it's services did not know it had physical service. The GSSP said they wanted it and have restored it. We have an address now. Unfortunately the school had to be torn down, but the church building is coming back, big time.

It can be done, with thoughtful, and educated, trained and EXPERIENCED people on the task.

JusadBellum said...

According to research, there's a correlation between belief in Heaven AND Hell, and Catholics' participation in the sacraments.

The less belief in Hell, the less people will go to Mass and especially Confession.

http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com/2012/06/reigniting-sacramental-life-there-may.html

Now here's something for you two pastors to ponder... we know how many warm bodies go to Mass on any given weekend. But has anyone counted how many people go to Confession per week? You'd know right? Of those perhaps 20-30 people, how many are 'regulars' vs. regular folk?

If you have 1200 families or 300 families and between 3000 and 900 adults in your parishes, and Catholics ought to confess at least once per year... wouldn't it follow that your numbers of 'non-regulars' ought to be higher?

How are we going to grow the overall number of active Catholics without an increase in sacramental life and how can we do that without much more extensive evangelization including and especially about the brass tack, 4 last things?

JusadBellum said...

Oh and I agree with PI about physical buildings... all things being equal, people are more important than things. Things are means to the end that is people going to heaven.

Thus our ancestors focused on people and thus were able to build these impressive buildings.

When their hearts where golden, on fire with love for the Lord, they expressed this love in stone.

When people's hearts become stones, grown cold from love of gold, why would they value a building used for worship of a foreign god?

We must avoid the cargo cult trap that the trappings, the effects of a deeply rooted faith in Jesus can maintain that faith. Faith is a theological virtue that requires purity of heart and mind. This is why both Aristotle and Aquinas warn of the darkening of the intellect that comes from vices. Vice in any quarter - sexual or intellectual, personal or interpersonal directly undermines both our intellect and will and thus robs people of supernatural faith.

So why are parishes empty or not growing? It's not because of aesthetics (although they help). It's not because of liturgical aesthetics (although beauty always helps). It's for a loss of wisdom and virtue.

Outside the box thinking means focusing on the people, not the box.

Wipo of Mainz said...

I'm just back from Germany and, as promised, I'll give my impressions of the liturgical situation there - this blog is after all concerned with liturgy, and it is often salutary to look at Catholic worship outside the Anglo-Saxon world.

Since the early 1940s there was widespread use of the vernacular in the liturgy, and both Ordinary and Propers could be sung in German, and metrical hymns often took the place of both. At Low Masses a commentator would recite in German what the priest was saying quietly in Latin, but even at High Mass (Hochamt) vernacular hymns and chants were allowed. It seems strange to us for the congregation to sing a hymn in place of the Gloria and Credo, but it was and is commonplace. Of course before 1964 the priest would have to say the Mass in Latin, so the mass itself was 'complete'.

The Feast of the Assumption is the patronal feast of the Kaiserdom in Speyer, the greatest Romanesque building in the world (although it has had to be rebuilt on more than one occasion since invading French armies had a habit of setting it alight and knocking down chunks of it). The high altar is 21 steps higher than the nave; in the Middle Ages there were three choirs, each with its own altar, one behind the other; nowadays there is a smaller altar six steps up which is used for everyday Masses. The musicians are 12 steps up on the second 'landing'.

The musical resources are outstanding, as is often the case in Germany - a large mixed choir, two junior choirs (one for boys, one for girls), a Gregorian chant schola (the Schola Saliensis) which also specializes in medieval polyphony and has an international reputation, a full orchestra and a magnificent organ which was installed only last year. In August this is scaled down somewhat, but we still had a decent choir and the brass section of the orchestra.

This was a Pontifikalamt at the high altar presided over by the bishop, who wore a splendid Roman-style Marian chasuble. The musical programme was surprisingly English - the Kyrie was by William Lloyd Webber (Andrew's father), the Gloria was by Charles Villiers Stanford, the Sanctus by John Rutter and the Agnus Dei by Christopher Tambling. Elgar's Ave Verum Corpus was sung at the Communion.

The Mass itself was in German, but the bishop sang everything, including the Eucharistic Prayer (Hochgebet). The verses of the Responsorial Psalm were sung to a beautiful melisma by the choir director, and two female singers sang the Alleluia verse in harmony - a recent composition but with nothing of the 'pop' style about it. The deacon began by reciting the Gospel, but when he reached the Magnificat he sang it, in German but to an authentic Gregorian tone.

The Mass ended with a quite lengthy Apostolic indulgence and blessing which the bishop sang in Latin, and then everyone joined in with the Salve Regina. I seemed to be the only one who could sing it from memory, although the Germans don't have the hang-ups with Latin that PI and his ilk seem to have, although German, unlike English, has few Latin cognates.

Last Sunday I attended the evening Mass at the church in Bad Kissingen. There was some singing in the Lutheran chorale style but it was basically a Low Mass in German. The priest ad-libbed a bit but generally stuck to the rubrics. The 'sign of peace' was done in a restrained and sober manner. The middle-aged server was correctly dressed but he was joined by two women when it came to distributing Communion (which, as is usual in continental Europe, was in one kind only). All three were offered the Chalice. This strikes me as an abuse, as it suggests that EMHC are 'different' from ordinary laity. Either offer it to everyone or restrict it to the clergy. That's my two cents' worth.

Richard M. Sawicki said...

Some folks simply don't want to think outside the box because in their pride they are afraid to find out that their way of doing things is failing (or just plain wrong) and that the alternative ideas being proposed by lay Catholics just might work!

As I have mentioned in a previous comment-posting, I've been involved in trying to save THREE parishes in the Archdiocese of New York, and I believe this is the "static" thought process in the chancery.

Gaudete in Domino Semper!