In just one locale, Cincinnati, the plan put forward seems to have all the support from the people who matter, even if it may lack the support of those in the pews. Listen to the plan. The Archdiocese announced in October its most ambitious plan in its 200-year history. If they follow through, they will change where nearly a half-million Roman Catholics will attend Mass, go to school, receive catechetical instruction, play bingo, and other activities connected to their faith. Titled (if somewhat tongue in cheek) Beacons of Light, the goal of this process is to combine the archdiocese’s 208 parishes into 60 “families of parishes” and then to turn these families into single parishes. It is a staged plan in which the parishes will unite first by sharing priests and resources as early as next year.
The bishops insist they have no choice -- fewer priests and less money and people have conspired against the parishes continuing as they were before. Consolidate or die, that is the mantra of Roman Catholicism today. The high and mighty in Rome and in the episcopal residences around the nation are presiding over a wholesale closure of parishes that make the closing of Sears and K-mart seem ordinary. And all the while these closures are going on, the Pope has made it his business to tick off conservatives by attacking their leadership, their TV station, and their Latin Mass. Boys, it is bad. Much worse than most are willing to admit.
Strangely, there are Lutherans who are envious of the power of the mitre and staff to shutter buildings, close parishes, and merge congregations. I hear it all the time. Those little congregations of under 30-40 in attendance just need to die. But why? Why do we think that we will breathe new life into the Church by closing down individual gatherings of the faithful around the Word and Table of the Lord? What good does it do the cause of Christ to have fewer outposts for the Gospel out there in an unfriendly world? What does it cost the rest of us and what will the rest of us gain by shutting the doors to congregation after congregation? Would it not be better to work our energy into reinvigorating those congregations -- especially those where there are no sister parishes nearby? Yes, I know. Some of them will die. Maybe most of them. But in their own time. And if they can be served in some way with pastoral care, why are we so upset about it all? Do we delight in downsizing the House of God? Do we get some perverse delight over the plight of these small churches and our presumption that they have no future but the death we assign to them? Last time I checked, many of those let loose by the closing of a parish (just about any denomination) remained loose, unattached, and, perhaps, even lost to the numbers of the faithful. Are we so sure that a smaller church will be a better one that we do not grieve these closings enough to figure out some other way?
Yes, I know that survival is not the best mentality or focus for a congregation -- paying the bills, keeping the lights on, making sure the doors are open, well, these are not quite the Great Commission. But serving the faithful with the gifts of God is and the only way revival will come to the Church is through the means of grace and not the through business models or economies of scale. God did not ask us to make sure we were doing His work economically but did command us to be faithful. Maybe some will close no matter what but some will grow. I have seen it. You have seen it as well. Parishes that were on life support came alive when the Word and Spirit of God worked that turn around. Presence is not everything but absence from the places where our people live and work is nothing all that grand either.
Frankly, we as Christian people have spent far too much time focusing on us and too little time focusing on the Word and promise of the Lord. He will sustain us through troubled times and grow His Church in His time and where He wills. It is enough for us to be faithful. Faithful in the parish, in the Christian home, and in the good works that display our faith to our neighbors and serve them in Christ's name.