Many of us continue to receive requests for funding of aging bricks and mortar upkeep expenses. We usually respond with a donation. Is this the right thing to do? What are the alternatives?
Of course it is the right thing to do is the simple answer. If we want to continue to have places to to worship in, to go on retreat or pilgrimage to or to live in, it takes money today to keep the doors open, comfortable and safe tomorrow. But how does one decide when the time comes to close those doors and seek an alternative?
Usually this relates to the increasing cost of renovations and maintenance of a facility beyond which it is simply not economic to maintain. We saw this recently in Ottawa where a large number of 60 year old rental town homes are to be demolished and newer structures built as decided by the corporate owner/developer.
For aging churches and religious retreat houses and shrines, the long standing tradition of their presence in the community can be hard to end. Generations of patrons have supported the facility with funds and participation and would be most upset if they were to suddenly to close.
However, owners of these religious facilities, dioceses and religious orders cannot be expected to underwrite the ever increasing cost of maintaining aging infrastructure beyond the point they believe is economically feasible. Closure is not only influenced by the available level of financial support from the communtiy but as well by the availability of pastors and lay volunteers to operate and animate the structure.
So when your local church suddenly closes it’s doors, what will be the alternatives? I went to a conference a few years back all about repurposing of religious facilities such as creation of multi-congregation shared worship facilities. Many churches, retreat centres, convents and monasteries have closed and resurfaced as community centres, concert halls or museums (e.g., in Europe). Many sites too have been sold to the highest bidder however a portion of the facility is often preserved for heritage purposes. In the end, it is often a sad day, signalling a change in the local communities support. But what can we do as parishioners now before our beloved church or retreat centre is closed? I posed this question to an Oblate priest recently and here is his response:
Talk to your local pastor and bishop about your willingness to establish a lay led prayer group that would continue to meet in people’s homes and be supported with visits by ordained priests or ministers. This is the way the church started pre-bricks and mortar. Is this the way of the future?