Wednesday, August 3, 2011

McParishes: the future of Southern Catholicism?

Interior of St. Margaret Church, Foley, Ala.
A couple of days ago, Msgr. Charles Pope of the (excellent) Archdiocese of Washington blog wrote a great piece about the migration of Catholics from the Northeast and upper Midwest to Southern and Western states over the past decade. We touched on some of the same information here. But Msgr. Pope looks more closely at how this movement will affect parish sizes throughout the US. You should definitely check out his post.

Many of us here in Mississippi are accustomed to small parish sizes but even here, parishes in cities are growing by leaps and bounds.This reflects a trend within our state of people moving out of very small towns and rural areas to larger population centers. This could be attributed to the job market in our state that sees agriculture losing in big ways to industry and small businesses, but it also reflects a national trend of migration to small and mid-sized cities and their surrounding areas.

This trend is reflected in the Catholic parishes in our diocese. The parishes in communities such as Gluckstadt (north of Jackson), Starkville and Oxford (both university towns) are thriving while rural mission parishes could be facing closure and/or merger in the future.

So, what do you think the future will hold for Catholic parishes in the South? Are we moving in a direction of mega-parishes such as those in suburban Atlanta and Birmingham? What will drive us there? The priest shortage must surely play a role in the need for combined parish resources.

The proposed new building for Our Lady of the Lake parish in Mandeville, La. proves that new, larger parish churches do not have to be "cookie cutter" or overly modern, architecturally.
If we are moving towards more combined parishes, I think it is vitally important that we not lose our Catholic identity in the process. We need to make sure that we don't fall victim to cookie-cutter and/or "trendy" architecture in building new buildings. We need to ensure that parishioners do not lose a sense of connectiveness and community in larger parishes, and that they are encouraged in maintaining those practices of distinctly Catholic devotion which help to keep families and their children practicing their Catholic faith. It's a tough challenge, but one which, if swept under the rug, will create a dire situation out of great opportunities for growth for Catholicism in the American South.

What's happening around you in your Southern parish? Do you like the idea of a huge, thriving parish? Are you experiencing growth or facing merger? We'd love to hear from you in the comments.