Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How Churches Kill the Church

This is my church, St. Agnes. I love it. If I move away from Brooklyn, it will be one of the things I miss most. However, I also know that it is an albatross around the neck of the Church, that is the Roman Catholic faith to which it is such a beautiful monument.

This past week was the kickoff of the annual appeal that the Diocese of Brooklyn conducts to raise funds. After the homily, the lights went down and we saw a video outlining all the good things the diocese will do with our money if we give it to them. Then, after the video was concluded, our priest reminded us that the majority of what we give will come back to the parish and go towards maintaining the building.

In that moment, it occurred to me why the Catholic Church feels so weak and passive: parish priests have been turned into caretakers for massive, under-peopled buildings like St. Agnes. Their minds are full of the latest contractor's estimates, fundraising plans, worries about the state of the roof, and heating bills. This seems to leave remarkably little time for instruction and evangelization. Heck, we're lucky they still have the time and energy to say mass.

And what about the parishioners? Their plight is summed up by the annual appeal: asked to sit back and watch as folks from a diocesan office provide things like 'immigration services' that they will never see. Told to send money, to fix a building built to hold the thousands of immigrants who built the neighborhood, but now hosts only the few families who have hung on, and the chance newcomer who keeps the faith. Their priest doesn't ask much of them, may not even know them (although, I will say, my parish priest is making a real effort to change that), but constantly reminds them that more funds are needed.It starts to feel a lot more transactional than inspirational, and the faithful become slowly discouraged, and even more drift away.

The Church must either renew or wither, and if the buildings it constructed in earlier days are now holding it back, they should not fear letting them go. After all, Jesus himself said, "If your eye betrays you, pluck it out." It would be painful to see the great built heritage of Catholicism pass away, but the Church is greater than the sum of its churches.

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