Saturday Collection 04/17/2010

The news on Episcopal parishes some weeks determines the theme: this week that theme is parish decline, transition, survival and recovery — transitions brought on by declines in church going, changes in age demographics, local economic declines, and the larger current recession.

Norwalk, Connecticut

Grace Episcopal Church, which has been a part of Norwalk since 1890, has seen the number of its worshipers decline in recent years as members died or moved away.

“It’s like starting over again,” said the Rev. Lois Keen, priest in charge, noting that following the 1950s and 1960s, many people just stopped attending church on Sunday. “All of us are trying to figure out what we are trying to do and be next.”

Meanwhile, Grace Episcopal Church continues to reach out to the community. Bilingual services have been added on the last Sunday morning of each month. There also is an open air service at 2 p.m. on the last Sunday of the month for anyone walking by, which is aimed at helping people become more comfortable with Jesus in an informal setting. The church also offers a healing service of just prayers at 10 a.m. on the final Saturday of the month, which is attended by patients, family members and doctors from Norwalk Hospital, not far away from the church’s location at Union Park and Mott Avenue.

“This is a time of transition. This is not new,” said Keen. “It’s happened before. This time it’s just ramped up by the electronic age.”

Federal Point, Florida

Mike Smith and James Wynn have been friends for nearly 20 years. That they both ended up as part of the “new” membership of St. Paul’s’ Episcopal Church in Federal Point is no coincidence.

“This church is in jeopardy of going away,” said Susie Smith, Mike’s wife. “The recession has hit everyone hard, including churches, and because we are in a rural area with no new subdivisions popping up, there just isn’t much to draw from.

“The rich traditions of this church need to live on,” Susie said, “and it does through Mike and James and the countless others who do Christ’s work every day through acts of kindness. People see that and they feel that love and commitment, and we hope they want to be a part of it.”

Batavia, New York

Shirley Leseur for more than four decades has sat in the pews at St. James Episcopal Church, often reflecting on the beauty of the stained-glass windows that tell of the story of Christ’s crucifixion and his resurrection.

“It adds to the whole spiritual atmosphere,” Leseur said Sunday during a stained-glass tour of five churches in Batavia.

The Episcopal Church was built in the cathedral style in 1909, with very high ceilings. Sunday’s tour was a fundraiser for St. James, which is under pressure to make building repairs.

The front of the building is off limits because of the threat of falling stone from the bell tower. The church can’t ring its bell right now because of the structural issues with the tower.

St. James isn’t alone with a small congregation trying to maintain a very large building, said Larry Barnes, the city of Batavia historian and a member of the Batavia Historic Preservation Commission. The commission worries about several churches and their wherewithal to keep up their buildings, many of which are official landmarks in the city.

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