Editorial: The church is more than a building, but losing the buildings hurts

There is an argument that the more sad events you witness, the easier it is to endure the next one. If this were true, we would collectively be so used to a church closing in Luzerne County that we would be quite numb, even indifferent, even when the church is the one we attend.

While our population has changed and secularism seems to be steadily increasing in our society (there are good arguments and data to suggest this is not nearly as big of a trend as some would have you believe) , it has become clear over the past few decades that the region’s impressive many houses of worship have not been able to survive.

For many, especially the Diocese of Scranton, a sign was the decline in the actual number of priests and ministers available to serve so many places. Another was the decrease in crowds, but the most popular rites celebrated around important dates that drew people to the area not only for a big holiday, but also for a family reunion,

But the glaring omen has always been the most immediate: parishes, churches and synagogues that once seemed filled with cash donations were finding it increasingly difficult not only to maintain day-to-day operations, but could not keep up with maintenance. so essential to a building’s physical survival.

The Diocese of Scranton suffered a drastic contraction for two decades, losing about half of its churches in Luzerne County. Many only stayed open by working on a second parish, sharing priests and resources. And it’s undergoing more revisions with another potential round of changes looming.

Monday’s page three story told of the most recent closure: St. Cecilia in Exeter. The Reverend Michael Finn – himself retiring very soon – celebrated the last mass in the building on Sunday, ending some 120 years of parish service to the community.

Familiar sights followed: a homily that served as a eulogy, a line for a final touching of the altar, a senior parishioner ceremonially closing the doors for the last time.

“It’s bittersweet,” longtime parishioner Mary Ann Kull said. “I have so many wonderful memories here.”

“I received my first communion, I was baptized, I had my first penance here,” Zachary Houston said. “The circle is complete and it’s very sad.”

That’s why it never gets easier. Worship will continue, as Saint Cecilia, like so many before her, merges with others at a different site. But every time we post a photo of someone touching an altar and locking the doors for the last time, for tens of thousands of believers of different faiths, the feeling is the same: “I remember when this happened to us or “it can happen to us”. happen to us. »

In 2002, as church closings in the Diocese of Scranton became a major story, the Reverend Thomas Sable, professor of theology at the University of Scranton, summed up the difference between closing a building and closing a ‘a church.

“In a small town – especially in a small town – it affects the whole community,” he said. “They have to kind of revamp their whole relationship.”

It’s not just about religious services, he said. It’s social work, group meetings, bazaars, suppers, blood drives, scout troops, food banks, dances, organized trips and more. If the parish has ethnic roots, the connection may be even deeper.

Yes, as we are always reminded, it really is is just a building. The faith she represented rests on the people who can carry her – and the memories – forward.

But it is also a long thread woven deeply in the community that is cut.

And it can never be easier.

— Head of Times

Darcy W. Kerr