My home congregation is in some ways emblematic of the dilemmas facing mainline Protestants. Bethel Peniel Presbyterian Church is located in a small town in upstate New York where Presbyterians were dominant in the 18th century and numerous in the 19th. A century ago, one of its predecessor churches had more than 300 members—as many as the building could hold.
You can tell a lot about people by what they hang on their walls. If
it’s someone with an office, it gets even more interesting. In my office
at the church I serve, I do not have any diplomas hanging. No awards.
No trophies or medals either—not that I ever won any. Not even my
ordination certificate is on the wall.
We are in the thick of it: Friday evenings have been
given over to wedding rehearsals and to discreetly bowing out of the
dinners afterwards. Saturdays are dedicated to joining couples in holy
From Britain to Denmark, Europe has hundreds of empty churches. The closing of a church is painful—especially in villages where the church for centuries served as a community anchor, even for unbelievers. Efforts are often made to adapt the buildings for a community service, such as a library. Because they are very expensive to maintain, empty churches are more frequently turned into some kind of commercial endeavor. The Church of St. Joseph in Arnhem, Netherlands, still owned by the Catholic Church, has been turned into a skate park. The Netherlands has the largest number of idle church buildings. Roman Catholic leaders in Holland estimate that within a decade two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be closed, and 700 of the country’s Protestant churches will likely close over the next four years (Wall Street Journal, January 2).