Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Rural churches continue to see numbers drop, forcing closures as people leave for urban areas

By Tim Mandell
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

In the church where I was married in Connersville, Ky., a town of 100 just outside the 6,400-person town of Cynthiana at the northern edge of the Bluegrass, it's not uncommon to look at the posted weekly attendance and see it numbering in the 20s or 30s, with numbers going down in winter when roads are slick and the mostly older members are put off by weather conditions. Sadly, numbers are also dropping because many longstanding members have passed away and few younger members are joining the church, especially with many people leaving rural areas for urban ones. That's a problem that's affected rural churches for decades, and is having a major impact now on churches in and near Parker, S.D., Leland Steva reports for KELO-TV in Sioux Falls.

"Father Hal Barber leads two Catholic churches in Parker and Marion," Steva reports. "After 40 years, the priest is seeing a decrease in attendance in one of his churches, especially in the younger generation." Barber told Steva, "The population of the Marion church is decreasing as a whole. We only have perhaps maybe nine children, all very young, and so we don't worry about or think about religious education."

As a result, "religious orders are leaving the Diocese of Sioux Falls to deal with declining numbers of vocations and increased retirements," Steva reports. The diocese "does have a plan in place to counteract the trend; some parishes will be merged, but none will close." That's good news, considering more than 100 churches have closed their doors in the 125-year history of the diocese, according to its records, Steva reports. (Read more)

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