Churches vital in community

“Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, Open the door and see the people, Here’s the parson going upstairs, and here he is saying his prayers.”

– Here’s the Church Finger Rhyme

In our community there are places where hearths have gone cold, light has become darkness, sound turned to silence. On Christmas Eve, people would be seen leaving these stolid and steepled structures with a glow on their face and frosty breath. Church buildings are scattered about town in neighborhoods and along thoroughfares, many serving as places of worship, others converted to other uses, and some vacant. In several ways, the shelter provided is an important part of the community.

Vacant churches are the result of too few ‘bucks and butts’ according to Thom Rainer, CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He estimates that six to 10 thousand churches are shuttered every year. The Giving Institute reports the percentage of charitable donations given to religious organizations dropped from 53 percent in 1987 to 32 percent in 2017. Though, most Americans say they have a spiritual or ethical compass, a declining number look to organized religion for support. A third of the adult population attends services regularly and a third intermittently ­– Christmas and Easter perhaps. The other third wouldn’t darken the door of a church.

A church building is divided by function with the sanctuary a place for devotion and serenity, offices and classrooms for administration and learning, and a kitchen. The spaces provide a performance area with sound systems and seating, rooms for meetings, with the kitchen having the capacity to serve large groups. Ostensibly built to be used by the church for worship and use of members in times of joy and sorrow, the church facilities are commonly shared with the public.

Without the hospitality of local churches, many services that improve our community would have difficulty functioning: soup kitchen, school nutrition, addiction support, and youth programs. Personal enrichment and support groups, crafters, dancers, musicians, grievers, and seekers would have difficulty finding space.

“One cannot enter indifferently in a space that still breaths the wreaths of incense and preserves the echo of liturgical song.”

– Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, Vatican Council of Culture

Tom Brindley grew up in Iowa, and studied journalism and accounting. He is a retired controller from Alpena Community College and has been active in local non-profit organizations. He can be reached at bindletom@hotmail.com. Read him here the first and fifth Thursday of each month.