And Now We Are Eleven!
PLUM grew in April! Last month, we welcomed the members of Lutheran Church of Our Savior, North Huntington for their one year trial as members of our PLUM cooperative ministry.
Are we crazy? Are we nuts? Weren’t 10 congregations enough? I’ll let Pastor John talk to you about the statistics that say we aren’t. Instead, I want to talk about “the road less traveled” that we are on, as the people of God, journeying through these difficult times.
When I talk with someone who is alarmed at the decline of his/her congregation, (“We used to line the aisles with chairs to accommodate everyone on Christmas and Easter!”), I empathize, because I remember those days, too. Then, I talk about the changes that have taken place in the region around Pittsburgh. Between demographic decline and competition for our people’s time, due to secular activities and interests, we are facing challenges we just are not used to, nor equipped for. As I’ve often said, seminary did not prepare me for this!
With PLUM, our answer to these challenges is not the commonly held one. We are swimming upstream, so to speak. We see the value in keeping our congregations and our Lutheran witness in our communities, where the people are. We have recognized the need to learn how to be a mission outpost instead of a traditional church of yore.
As I said, we’re swimming upstream. The current is sweeping most congregations in the direction of consolidation. Did you see the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on Holy Saturday (by Elizabeth Behrman and Peter Smith) about the timeline of the Pittsburgh Diocese for downsizing parishes? The project is being called, “On Mission for the Church Alive!” Over the next five years, most of the parishes in the diocese will experience mergers. The reason? Since 2000, the regional population of Catholics is down 16%. Attendance at mass, confirmations, baptisms and first communions, marriages and parochial school enrollments are down 40-50%. Right now, the diocese has 216 priests and, within 10 years, there will be half that many. And half of all parishes are running “in the red”. If these statistics reflect reality for the largest church in the area, they speak to our reality as well. These numbers are certainly not unfamiliar to us (albeit on a smaller scale). However, the answer for the Diocese of Pittsburgh is mergers. Lots and lots of mergers.
The members of Trinity Ev. Lutheran in Sheraden just walked with their Roman Catholic brothers and sisters through the merger of Holy Innocents, the Catholic church just two blocks down the street. The most glaring problem with the closure of this building and the merger with others is that many of the people, especially the elderly, rely on public transportation and now can’t get to church. Not only is Sunday bus service scanty, but there are few bus routes that run through many of the neighborhoods serviced by that congregation, or Guardian Angels, or Ascension - all churches that became a part of this merger.
Yes, PLUM is swimming upstream. But all you have to do is come to a PLUM board meeting to see how joining together, supporting one another in our struggles to be faithful as small congregational outposts in this rapidly changing world of ours, has its advantages.
Let me list some of them. A multi-talented, full-time pastoral team for the price of a part time pastor that provides continuity of pastoral ministry; the opportunity to focus on ministry, instead of worrying about who’s going to be in the pulpit on Sunday; sharing ideas and often receiving concrete support for ministry from sister congregations; sharing other staff such as organists and secretaries; and providing realistic parish ministry experience for interns and seminarians. We have engaged the issues facing all of the churches in a creative way that is working. Merger and consolidation may be the answer in some instances with some congregations but we firmly believe that keeping our doors open in our communities and serving the people there is the way to be faithful.
If you doubt any of this, come to the next PLUM Board meeting, being held at Trinity Lutheran Church in Mt. Oliver on Sunday, April 30 at 1:30 p.m. Hear and see for yourself.
Easter is the season of hope, when we hear the promise of New Life won for us by our Lord in the resurrection and where we hear that, with God, all things are possible. Let us pray that the Lord will, indeed, bestow new life in amazing ways upon all of our congregations, as we work together to remain faithful in the corners of God’s vineyard entrusted to us.
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sheraden, 3102 Sherwood Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15204 412-331-0600