Millions of people have stayed away from their places of worship due to the coronavirus pandemic. This leaves congregations in crisis with one question: Will they return?
The pandemic is receding in the United States, and services are resumed in-person, but there are still concerns about a deeper slide in attendance.
Some houses of worship will not be able to make it.
The Rev. said that smaller organizations and older congregations are at greatest risk of falling into a downward spiral. They won’t be able to recover. Gloria E. White Hammond, lecturer at Harvard Divinity School and copastor of a Boston church.
The pandemic struck the Maine coast and proved fatal for the Waldoboro United Methodist Church, which was 164 years old.
Even before COVID-19 was popularized around the globe, the weekly attendance at the New England white-clapboard church could only hold a few hundred people. According to the Rev., the number of people attending the Sunday service dwindled further to just five or six. Gregory Foster.
Foster stated that the remaining congregants realized they couldn’t maintain the structure and decided to take it down.
“We cannot blame COVID for everything. That was not the end. He said that some people had not returned at all.
The Mount Clifton United Methodist Church in Virginia suffered a similar fate. Although the church can accommodate more than 100 people, the number of weekly worshippers has dwindled from 10 to 15, even before this pandemic.
A small, white church was built in the Shenandoah valley in 1880s. It can be rented out to another congregation or put up for sale.
The Rev. said that although it was a complex picture, the pandemic was what broke the camel’s back. Darlene Wilkins was responsible for Mount Clifton. “It was almost impossible to sustain.”
The United States faces a new challenge in places of worship, as it is against the backdrop of a long-standing trend in which a smaller percentage of the population identify themselves as religious.
It is too soon to assess the full extent of the pandemic. There are signs of hopefulness, but also reasons to be concerned.
According to a recent APNORC poll, around three quarters of Americans who attended religious services at least once a month before the pandemic said they will do so again within the next few days. This is slightly higher than the two-thirds of Americans who stated in May 2020 they would attend if allowed. However, 7% of respondents said that they won’t be there.
These findings align with the results of a Pew Research Center survey that was conducted last summer among U.S. residents. The survey found that 92% expected to continue attending religious services at the same or greater rate while 7% said they would attend less frequently.
Lifeway Research in Nashville, Tennessee, an evangelical research company, claims that many churches lost their steam after services were cut off. Scott McConnell (Lifeway’s executive director) said that a small but worrying number of churchgoers are leaving the pandemic without a home church.
McConnell stated, “That’s quite a bit of momentum to lose” and that there are many people who have gotten rid of their weekly worship habit.
White-Hammond stated that those who are successful in reemerging after the COVID-19 lockdowns, will be those that did a better adaptation to the pandemic. Pew found that eight in ten congregants reported that their services were being streamed on the internet.
White-Hammond stated that those who maintain a close relationship with their congregation and rely less on the plate being passed for donations have a greater chance of surviving.
Temple Beth El in Charlotte, North Carolina was closed during the pandemic, but it kept its members in touch through events such as “challah day”. Volunteers baked more than 900 loaves of bread that were then delivered to homes so people could enjoy them with Shabbat meals.
Rabbi Dusty Klass stated that there will not be a return to “normal” following the pandemic. “There were people who returned home, but they may not return to the sanctuary. They might just pray on their couch. We have to ensure that they have this opportunity.
According to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Virginia some of its 11 locations are now open for worshippers. Safety measures have been taken at all eleven locations.
Rizwan Jaka (chair of interfaith relations and media relations) stated that if COVID were to disappear 100%, then I believe our community would come back fully because people desire… to be together.”
The historic Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco survived the 1906 earthquake. However, it was badly damaged by the pandemic and has been struggling to keep its doors open.
The revenue of the 160-year-old Roman Catholic Church, which is heavily dependent upon older worshippers and tourists, was lost when many parishes were closed during the pandemic. The Rev. John Ardis had the unenviable task of firing most of the lay staff and reducing the salary of a priest to close the parish preschool.
The plaster is deteriorating and the paint is peeling away from the walls. Numerous stained-glass windows also need to be replaced.
Ardis stated, “But those are secondary at this moment.” “Because I am just trying to keep the doors open.”
New England is a place where any slippage could be even more severe, as fewer residents identify themselves as religious.
Judy Grant (77), a Maine resident, was a newcomer who first watched the services online, then started attending in person.
The closure upsets her.
She said, “I am extremely disappointed.” “Many churches are closing.” She said that although COVID was a major factor in the latest shrinkage, they had been shrinking for a while before.
Nearly 60 people gathered in the sanctuary for Sunday’s final service. It was both emotional and uplifting. Foster spoke of new beginnings and encouraged believers to keep their faith.
People began to remove some of the contents of the church, including religious paintings and furniture.
Grant stated that many people hope the building will be revived with a new congregation. “We must be positive and pray.”