The way the world worried about the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire, it’s hard to believe the recent Gallup Poll finding that “U.S. Church Membership is Down Sharply in the Past Two Decades.” A decline was also noted in synagogue and mosque membership. Also during Easter/Passover week, angry Paris crowds protested the mega-millions pledged to restore Notre-Dame Cathedral rather than helping the poor and disadvantaged. Ah, if only they didn’t rage. But perhaps you share my hope for comparable support to save U. S. faith groups with all-out efforts to reverse that sharp decline.
The Loss of a ChurchI think of the pending loss of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, which has blessed the corner of East 74th Street and York Avenue since 1939. As this paper’s readers know, the congregation is relocating and the church building will be razed to make way for a residence for Weill Cornell Medicine medical students. Yes, that’s surely better than a luxury high-rise, one reader wrote. But the church’s low-rise distinctive architecture will be sorely missed in a city increasingly overwhelmed by characterless high rises. And isn’t the architecture — the look and feel of it, inside and out — a major reason for the worldwide concern about Notre-Dame by nonbelievers? Epiphany is also beautiful, inside and out, and there’s even a garden.
The Need for Help and SupportGallup also notes how people just aren’t interested in church affiliation, let alone membership. And while there’s surely the loss of religious faith, I’ve long felt there’s too little sharing of one another’s burdens within religious congregations. The sermons and scripture interpretation somehow don’t help create a supportive community. They could sure use lessons on supportive community building from the 12-step groups that often meet on religious premises.
And incidentally, these so essential groups lose meeting spaces when churches and other places of worship shut down or merge. These facilities are so needed for so many non-religious purposes that serve the public good. And they are public places we’re fast losing in a city once renowned for its neighborhood stores and eateries, which made it a neighborly city. But where are the protests?
And a related sidetrack — what about when fires destroy homes and neighborhood shops? “Fires ripped through a Brooklyn business block,” reported NY1 the day after the Notre-Dame fire. But nothing was said about the catastrophic loss to business owners and workers, or to the community at large. And shouldn’t the mayor and other electeds be calling for donations to restore these places, which meet everyday needs? Incidentally, every fire that leaves people homeless or destroys stores warrants enormous public response, especially with so few affordable homes available. Ah, and shouldn’t faith groups be preaching and teaching about the need to restore the time when family, friends and neighbors took in those made homeless by disasters?
Spreading the LoveAnd shouldn’t faith groups be addressing this lack of “love one another” in society at large, beginning in their own congregations? Incidentally, Easter flowers for a longtime Presbyterian church member, now home-bound by an accident, came from East 79th Street Neighborhood Association president and Passover-observant Betty Cooper Wallerstein.
To return to the loss of Church of the Epiphany, I sometimes attended, and for special occasions like the memorial service for member Dagmar Scott. Dagmar was always there to help when you were ill or in trouble, but she was not helped enough in her last homebound years. And I failed to practice what I preach.
Among pastoral prayers I especially recall, were Pastor Andrew Mullins’ prayers for the safety of workmen repairing the church roof. Ah, what a dangerous profession is erecting high-rise buildings — and so is fighting high-rise fires.
This column is all over the place on how to save places of worship, but mostly I believe it’s the caring for others, the bearing of one another’s burdens, that must be stressed — in general surely — but beginning within the congregation. It’s up to the concerned, like you and me, not only to remind faith group leaders, but to be a Dagmar Scott-type example. Incidentally, a plaque dedicated to Dagmar’s memory graces a John Jay Park bench.