Who's in your Pews

Staff ~ The Telegram
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Faith and friction

Priest outspoken about need for change:

St. John's archbishop in favour of priests marrying if Rome allowed it

 

A conversation with Rev. Paul Lundrigan is a lesson in faith, church history and the politics of the Catholic Church.

The priest, who this year will be winding up a dozen years at St. Kevin’s in the Goulds neighbourhood of St. John’s, has not been one to hide his feelings about the church and its need to evolve. He also serves St. Joseph’s Petty Harbour Catholic Church.

“Not only can we not go back — this is what I am hearing from masses of people — ‘We need to move forward and change some of the things that do exist,’” Lundrigan said, referring to the Roman Catholic stalwarts in Rome who want to revert to ancient traditions as a cure for some of the worldwide scandals that have rocked the church.

“We have to get rid of some of the current traditions. … The celibacy issue — why is it our priests aren’t allowed to marry? What benefit is there in that?

“No. 2 — why are we ignoring half of our church’s and our society’s population, not listening to their voice, not letting them have any governing role or leadership role in the church? Women should be more than just helpers. … They should have governing roles, should be ordained, should be leaders.”

Besides the controversy over the fate of a decommissioned Anglican church in St. Philip’s, the Catholic church was the one religion most referenced by participants in a recent Telegram survey, “Who’s in your pews?” which featured a series of online questions about faith, attendance and relevance.

 

In a comments section of the poll, the Catholic church was brought up by several participants for its scandals, most notably the Mount Cashel Orphanage sexual abuse scandal involving the Christian Brothers and abuse by some individual priests who victimized children in various areas of the province.

One Catholic parishioner who participated in the online poll — restricted to one IP address per household — reported a mostly grey-haired audience on Sundays and expressed surprise at the financial health of the church.

“I also think that the sexual abuse scandal created by some clergy, and the way it has been handled by the hierarchy from here to Rome, has had a profound influence on people deciding whether or not to attend church, regardless of what their church commands them to do,” the parishioner said.

“People have taken more control of their church-attendance decisions than in the past when they went because of the power the church held over their decision-making ... and that’s a good thing. I also don’t think the local dioceses of the Catholic church have engaged in any dialogue with their parishioners on the issue of sexual abuse by clergy, and many parishioners have concluded that ‘If they don’t give a damn about what I think on such important issues, then they no longer have my support.’ I suspect that in the next 10 to 15 years there will be a very serious crisis in the number of Catholic clergy to serve the people and I also expect to see many parishes consolidated for this reason combined with a lack of attendance.”

But while there is a trust issue among parishioners, some respondents said they just want the church to get on with modern practices.

“Would like to (see) women ordained in Catholic Church,” one participant said.

“The Catholic church seems out of step with the realities of everyday life,” another noted.

Martin Currie, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. John’s, noted in speaking with The Telegram that he was ordained in 1968, when some were expecting change.

Currie said he will not go against the promises he made in taking on his current role, but if the Vatican in Rome OK’d the marriage of priests, he’d be “delighted.”

At age 69, Currie said he’s past any desire to marry and he recognizes celibacy has value, too. He favours priests marrying, but would not take the radical step of ordaining married men against the Vatican’s existing rules.

“I think it would be good. I think it would be a healthy thing, you know, if it did change,” Currie said, adding the issue is one of church discipline that could be resolved if that’s the will of the church hierarchy in Rome.

But if Currie were pope, he would still not ordain women, because that’s deep in the teachings and history of the church.

“The question of women as priests is a theological one,” Currie said.

“Priests offer the sacrifice to stand in the place of Christ. We say it has to be male to do that in the long tradition, to the very beginning of time.”

Then there’s the official Catholic rule of not allowing divorced people to participate in communion. Currie said just as many Catholic people divorce as in other faiths and he’d like to see Rome engage a serious study of such practices.

Currie also noted other denominations — those without restrictions — such as the United and Anglican churches struggle to attract clergy.

The diocese has recruited some priests who had other careers beforehand. And there are five Filipino and one Polish priest serving in the diocese.

The diocese has also clustered congregations, reducing the church units from 50 to about 28 — with priests taking on four or five churches for rotating services and communities in the cluster responsible for the buildings’ upkeep.

“One of the things that’s important to note,” said Currie, “is that so many of our men are in a situation where so much of their energy and effort gets put in maintenance rather than into mission.”

Lately the diocese has had an annual deficit of about $500,000 and is once again reviewing assets for surplus properties and seeking to clarify titles on some, Currie said. Obviously, the Basilica — the flagship church in St. John’s, would never be sold.

There are efforts to involve more youth in the church, among other measures to draw people back to the faith.

But there are also vibrant congregations, such as Paradise, where the high numbers require two services, Currie noted.

And he said the church has maintained charity and counselling services and parishioners always rise to the need to raise aid in times of disaster around the world.

Currie envisions a smaller Catholic church in the future, but one that is faith-filled, with the devoted remaining in the pews.

“We won’t be closing shop,” he said.

The diocese also had to deal with a recent fraud scandal.

In 2011, longtime business manager William Power was sentenced to two years less a day in prison for defrauding the Roman Catholic church out of close to $600,000.

Currie, archbishop for five years now, also said the church under his leadership has been striving for transparency and accountability.

He noted volunteers are screened by police and clergy are chosen selectively in the push to make the church safe for children.

“(The taint of the scandals) will always be there, but we have to move on,” Currie said.

“It will be a chapter of our history which we greatly regret.”

Lundrigan was ordained in 1988, the same year the sex abuse scandal broke involving Fr. Jim Hickey. More priests were subsequently arrested and convicted.

“If we can put (the scandals) behind us and forget about it then we learned nothing from it. This is something we got to live with now for the rest of our lives, the rest of our history,” Lundrigan said.

He is vocal about the need for change in the church, including the need for the Catholic organization to stop marginalizing gays and lesbians, but Lundrigan remains loyal to his faith, despite some of the dysfunctions he sees in the Catholic church.

Lundrigan said at the parish level, all are welcome to worship and women are given as much involvement as possible.

“I know change is happening and I need to do my part to help with that. So at the end of the day if I think this is wrong I have to stand up and protest against it,” Lundrigan said.

“Some of the things should change. We’re going to work towards getting changed. Some of the things that can change, we’re going to change and we’re going to do it ourselves.”

In 2003, then archbishop Brendan O’Brien publicly chastised Lundrigan before the priest’s two congregations because in a sermon Lundrigan had criticized the church’s efforts to persuade Ottawa to quash legislation allowing same-sex marriages.

“I’m lucky this new bishop (Currie) is a good guy. We fight a lot and there are times when I go up one side of him and down the other. And there are times when he does the same with me,” Lundrigan said, now a decade later.

He now sees Catholic families that are striving to bring their children back to religion, to embrace the good parts of the church they remember.

“There’s a spiritual hunger there,” Lundrigan said.

“I think for priests over the years — and for me right now — the big challenge is to feed adults spiritually and it can’t be baby food anymore. It has to be something much more substantial. We have got to be open to the challenges thrown to us.”

Not all families, said Lundrigan, can practise their faith every Sunday.

“Our numbers fluctuate. For no reason at all suddenly on a Sunday we’ll get a big pile of people,” he said.

“If we can give people a solid foundation of faith, that’s more important than packing people into churches every Sunday who are just biding time and trying to get out of there.”

Lundrigan will spend his 25th year of ordination in Goulds and Petty Harbour, then move on to another church in the diocese.

 

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What to do with empty pews

Churches find new life when parishioners go elsewhere

Third in a four-part series

By Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

When John Landrigan noticed an advertisement in a weekend real estate guide concerning the former St. Lawrence Church in Portugal Cove, he was immediately intrigued.

“Just the size of it,” said Landrigan, when asked what piqued his interest. “I had a lot of stuff stored, and my mother recently passed away, so I needed storage, because we were selling the family home.”

Landrigan has owned the church, which was built in 1920, for more than 10 years.

Aside from operating the Old Church Antique Shop inside a structure that has served as the location for countless weddings, christenings, and other holy events, he lives in the former church with his girlfriend. He previously operated an antique store in Petty Harbour before buying the deconsecrated church.

There have been numerous cases in this province where churches were sold to other parties. There may be a need for a new, more modern building in order to accommodate worship, or there may not be enough parishioners to support keeping the church open, forcing people to attend church in neigbouring communities.

Sometimes those churches left behind find new life. In English Harbour, a deconsecrated church became the English Harbour Arts Centre, which hosts workshops and cultural events. St. George’s Heritage Church in Brigus was purchased in 2004 and is now a concert venue.

In other instances, the diocese may choose to tear down the old church. The latter decision does not always sit well with parishioners, as is evident in the case of the former St. Philip’s Anglican Church, which the diocese sought permission to tear down from the town council, but was denied.

In the case of the church that Landrigan bought in Portugal Cove, the diocese was moving into an old school in the community that could accommodate catering and live music — the old church had no plumbing to speak of.

When Landrigan purchased the former St. Lawrence Church, he said there were residents who were against moving to the school.

“A lot of people weren’t that happy about anything going in here, but most of them have gotten over it.”

He said many who used to attend church services have since come to check out the building in its current state, while there remains some whom he understands would not dare visit.

“There’s still people who won’t come in because of that,” said Landrigan. “Ten years later, and you only live a half-mile away, and you never come in because it used to be your church? I guess.”

Ultimately, he believes having someone purchase the church to give it a new life is preferable to the alternative.

“The outside looks better than it ever did. It could have been all torn down. There could be a couple of houses here.”

For the interior, Landrigan had extensive work ahead of him. An altogether-new second floor was built within the church to create an open-concept living area. The antique shop takes up all of the main level.

Walking up a set of stairs that makes use of boat oars for railings, visitors will first spot the kitchen area and living room, with a bed at the far end of the second floor behind antique cabinets. The bathroom is the lone enclosed area.

Electric heating is available, though Landrigan says he more often relies on the wood stove. There is a second wood stove on the main level.

“It keeps you fit hauling all that wood up here,” he said, standing above a large wood pile stacked along a wall on the main level.

At the front end of the second floor, a wooden ladder leads to the steeple, where one can take in a view of the community and the harbour.

Landrigan says it took 11 weeks of intense work to build the second floor for the church and make it inhabitable, while it took six-to-eight months to open the antique shop.

“It was 11 weeks to the day from having no floor to getting it done,” he said.

He describes the church as “half insulated,” adding it remains a work-in-progress in some respects.

Raised as a Roman Catholic, Landrigan now considers religious ideals to be best expressed through the way you live.

Having revamped his church into a home and business, Landrigan loves meeting others who have purchased a former place of worship and turned it into something else, as they always have something in common to talk about.

 

arobinson@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

 

Wednesday: Read Wednesday’s edition of The Telegram for a story by Barb Sweet on efforts to promote change within the Catholic church.

 

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Front, Monday, February 4, 2013, p. A1

 

Downtown churches face unique challenges

Gower Street United among those managing large heritage structures

 

By Barb Sweet/The Telegram

 

Third in a four-part series

It's a January Monday morning at Gower Street United Church and John Evans drops by to check on the collection tally.

"Not a good Sunday," the finance committee chairman remarked to those counting the coffers - a regular Monday routine.

A few days later, he told The Telegram that's not unusual for a Sunday early in the New Year, following the busy Christmas season, when pews are filled.

And the particular Sunday service was just a couple of days after a blizzard, meaning some parishioners were zonked from digging themselves out at home and deep snowbanks taxed parking in the downtown - and Gower Street United is encircled by roads.

The distinctive and sprawling red brick building, its sanctuary detailed with irreplaceable woodwork, intricate iron grillwork and stunning stained glass windows, is actually the third structure on the site. But the denomination traces its roots four buildings ago to 1815 when it was originally Methodist, according to the official church history.

The current structure opened in 1896, after the previous church was razed in St. John's Great Fire of 1892.

Evans' family has been attending Gower since his grandparents' day, but his wife, Margot's family ties in the church go back several generations to J.E.P. Peters, who married his wife, Rose, at Gower on New Year's Day in 1863.

John and Margot Evans married there and their own children's families have marked their life's milestones at Gower.

The roots of Gower Street United stretch to a time of large families, rigorous Sunday attendance and a congregation who mostly walked to church.

But lives have changed - sports and other activities command families' weekend time and St. John's and the metro area has sprawled out for miles in every direction.

Gower United holds 850-900 people, while a typical non-holiday Sunday now draws about 200 faithful. And it's second in a line of four large United churches along a roughly two-kilometre stretch of the downtown - Cochrane Street United, Gower, George Street United and Wesley Church on Patrick Street.

Gower is deep in history, but not necessarily practical in modern times. Though the church is holding its own financially, it's a massive structure with little potential for energy efficiency.

It costs $100 an hour to heat the church - a $50,000-a-year oil bill. Those sorts of bills play on a finance chairman's mind.

The church's pipe organ - originally a $30,000 piece donated in the 1930s cost about $500,000 to refurbish four years ago.

"This past summer we were in Rome and looking at St. Peter's (Basilica). All I could think was, my God, how much does it cost to maintain this?" Evans said.

"Margot was reading out of (her family history book) from the wills. They were leaving money to the church to look after the poor of St. John's and also medical things through the church. Today I am sort of struggling down there to keep the place together but I know people donated to (various charities). Times have changed significantly."

If Gower's congregation decided one day to sell and build a smaller, state-of-the-art church in a new subdivision, it would mean turning away from history and the sense of place the congregation has at Gower. Churches in the downtown also play host to a range of cultural events, such as concerts.

"If you had a modern building it wouldn't have the character, it wouldn't have a lot of the atmosphere, however you would have something that was fairly economical to maintain. So where's the balance?" Evans said.

"People get attached to buildings. It means a lot to them. My problem is we are spending a lot of money on a building and there are a lot of things that need to be done. There are a lot of people who are hungry outside the church doors. ... But you look at it the other way and say, 'If we didn't have this building would people donate to us?'"

About 30 years go, Evans was involved in the building committee when bricks needed replacing. He said he convinced the congregation to go with Newfoundland bricks rather than the U.K. bricks that are original to the building, since local bricks are less porous - an important consideration in this climate. When Evans suggested the church might consider selling the church and building two smaller structures in St. John's, wallets opened up for repairs to the beloved structure, he recalled.

"People rise to these sorts of occasions and like to feel like they are doing something," he said.

The couple say the church has an active slate of volunteers and men's and women's groups who work hard at fundraising.

The church just reviewed its financial details and is in good shape, so the situation is far from doom and gloom, Rev. Guy Matthews noted.

Evans said the choice to stay, amalgamate or go does not have to be made at this point and may be a long way off, especially if the church strives for modern relevancy.

"I think that choice is coming. I wouldn't say very quickly. That choice, if we manage things properly, that choice will probably become obvious. My sense is we have to learn to work together," he said

That means downtown United congregations could pool their assets - explore rental space potential and perhaps chip in together to build rentable parking structures, as offices downtown are crying out for parking, he suggested.

One idea that hasn't worked out yet is obtaining a provincial heritage grant for help with church repairs.

The church qualified for a $30,000 grant and matching the funds wasn't the issue, Evans said.

"But then (the province) wanted us to sign an easement in perpetuity; to turn over the control of the building to them," he said.

"And this building is insured for about $15 million, and for $30,000 we had to give up control of the building. It didn't make any sense."

A couple of years ago, the state of church attendance at Gower United frightened Evans, but he's seeing new, younger faces in the congregation now - people in their 30s and 40s with children.

"It's been encouraging recently to see faces that aren't familiar, haven't been here for generations. That's extremely encouraging," he said.

"It's not going to happen in droves but they are trickling back."

The rising cost of maintaining old, large structures is a dilemma facing a lot of old churches in downtown cores, whether in St. John's or across North America, said Matthews, Gower's minister of 18 months. He previously served at the more modern St. James United on Elizabeth Avenue, which had a younger congregation.

Matthews said he doesn't have the same emotional attachment to Gower as many of the parishioners, but he recognizes their devotion and that the structure enriches the downtown.

"A church is something people invested in personally. It is not as simple as saying the practical solution is to amalgamate or close doors," he said, adding the parishioners are well aware times have changed.

"People who come in these congregations are not living in any kind of false world where they think everything is OK. They understand the realities."

Matthews sees his role as guiding his congregation in their decisions.

"One of the questions of the longtime survival of the church is we are here. It is not something we can hook on to the back of a tractor and move," he said.

"What I am pleased about is this is starting to be dialogue around the current situation and what it means and looking forward and an understanding we are part of a larger community, and how do we fit in and what work needs to be done and what resources. History will unfold.

"We have people coming through our doors and some end up staying. They talk about feeling embraced. That's not the building. The building is a cold brick structure that needs to be heated. If it fell down tomorrow morning, if it crumbled, Gower Street United Church as a congregation still lives."

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Front, Saturday, February 2, 2013, p. A1

 

A test of faith

Church life still important to many, you tell Telegram survey

 

By Barb Sweet/The Telegram

If people aren't flocking to church the way they used to, it may not be due to a lack of faith.

Some 41 per cent of people who responded to a recent online Telegram poll indicated they have faith, but practise it on their own.

"I have faith, but don't agree with organized religion," one poll respondent said.

"Churches are beautiful buildings, but they are all just a business."

Roughly 600 people participated in the poll and roughly half answered that particular question.

Of those, 28 per cent indicated they were too busy for church - reflecting the changing lifestyles acknowledged by some church officials and parishioners interviewed by The Telegram in the wake of the survey.

With both spouses working in most two-parent families, with more single-parent families - leaving weekends to catch up on chores and errands - and a schedule packed with organized activities and sports for kids, worship services are among the many things vying for people's time.

Some 30.7 per cent of respondents said they aren't religious.

The poll isn't scientific, but participation is restricted to only one IP address per household.

About 60 per cent of the respondents live in metro St. John's, 21 per cent live in a large town and 19 per cent are rural residents.

Almost half the respondents said the church is usually half full at their regular weekend worship service, while almost a third said it was a quarter full or less.

Less than a quarter of the respondents said their place of worship is full each week.

But more than 86 per cent said that on special occasions such as Christmas or Easter, their place of worship is either full or there's standing room only.

Occasional worshippers chastised

Some participants were critical of those who only show up on special days.

"It would be nice if more people went to church regularly," one poll participant said. "People have time to do whatever except church until Christmas and Easter and then they think they should get a seat and the regulars should stand up. Come visit your God more often; that's why He is in His house, waiting for your visit."

Slightly more than 38 per cent of the respondents said they never miss a weekly or regular scheduled service, while almost 22 per cent reported they never go to church.

"A lot of the people who belong to our congregation do not attend church services regularly, therefore, they only give when they attend," one respondent wrote.

"The church needs money all the time. These people are also the ones who expect every service the church has to offer and want the minister to be there for them in times of need such as illness, etc."

"Churches are mostly used now for hatching, matching and dispatching," another person noted.

"If you are not a regular churchgoer, why would you want to take your child to be christened, your marriage blessed or your funeral from a parish you have not frequented for 30 years?"

"Wish more people had faith and included God in their lives," another person said.

"Particularly our youth, who now only have their parents to guide them towards the church with the absence of religion in our schools."

Some tied their break with religion to mistrust over church scandals.

"Things for me changed with going to a place to worship after the Mount Cashel incidents. I am a good Christian and I am on a daily basis, but I do not need to congregate with a man of the cloth to be that good person. My views on priests have changed very much in the last years," commented one participant, referring to the sex abuse scandal at the Christian Brothers-run orphanage that broke in the 1980s.

"It's hard sometimes to feel positive about the church, especially the Catholic Church, after all that has gone on with the sexual abuse of young children by clergy," said another.

Others suggested churches have to change with the times.

"The church leaders need to start accommodating the younger generation more seriously. Guitars are OK, but they need to make the whole service, be it Catholic or non-Catholic, more open to ongoing changes," wrote one poll participant.

"What do the youth of today have in common with the church of 2,000 years ago, very little I'm afraid, except faith. Regardless of what most people think, the youth of today are very eager to be involved in church, but not as a society that only caters to those of closed minds. The non-Catholic churches run all sorts of programs for youth, but from what I see the Catholics do not."

"Church policies and teachings do not reflect modern society so parents find themselves in a constant conflict with policies, thereby telling kids something different than Church leaders," another respondent wrote. "Until that changes church attendance will decline."

Longing for the old days

But while some people might want more modern ways, others yearn for a return to tradition, such as a denominational school system or restriction on Sunday shopping and sports activities.

"Not having a denominational school system has made it harder for parishes to keep the faithful and support themselves financially," one commenter suggested.

"Churches need to forget the religion and politics and get back to the love and meaning of God," another person said. "You don't have to be perfect to be a Christian as most churches preach."

One respondent noted: "I think it should be brought back in the school system. Children are not being taught at home."

"I am concerned with how organized religion has come to play such an apparently insignificant role in people's lives these days," said another. "Some of the blame for that has to be shared by churches, Sunday shopping as do sporting/leisure activities."

"Too many churches get too involved with politics and what they really need to do is get back to the basics: that is Jesus is lord," said one respondent.

"Children with no religious guidance is part of the problems with the youth today. There should not be any sports events allowed on Sundays till about 2 p.m. I know families that went to church all the time until the children got involved in sports and they had to make the decision of where to go. My kids don't go to church now, but what they learned in church and Sunday school is still there in the back of their minds somewhere, as they turned into wonderful adults."

Churches must evolve: bishop

Bishop Percy Coffin of the Anglican Church's western Newfoundland diocese acknowledged churches have to compete with a lot nowadays, including the "St. Timothys on every corner."

Early in his decade as a bishop, Coffin oversaw the closure of about four churches in the largely rural diocese, which now has about 85 congregations. In two instances, two parishes share clergy.

And there has been a decrease in people getting ordained, resulting in a couple of vacancies, although Coffin is encouraged that two recruits are now finishing their undergraduate degrees.

"Out of the blue comes stuff like that," Coffin said.

But he figures the church will look very different in 10-20 years' time if the trend of decline continues - about 10-20 per cent of the church population every five years.

The changes not only reflect how people feel about religion, but a general population decline and the decline of rural communities, as young people move away or spend weeks away at long-distance commuter jobs in Alberta.

But those who remain in the pews are steadfast, Coffin said.

"Financially, the past year has been as good as any," he said.

When the time comes for tough choices to be made, it's about more than just shuttering a building.

"When you strip away the church, people lose hope. Hope is what they run on," he said.

Even while churches compete for attention with other activities, Coffin is encouraged by the care taking place in society outside churches and outside religion.

"It's done in different ways," he said. "Not in the guise of the church structure as we knew it. In our tradition, Newfoundlanders have always cared for each other. That's what God intended. Goodness is going on."

Collins said the church must move with the 21st century, noting that a fellow bishop once remarked if church officials don't like change, they're going to like irrelevancy a lot less.

"Churches like ourselves are never going to be what we were. I hope we use the wisdom to become something better," he said.

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•••

 

Religion

Salvation Army reaching out to families

St. John's Citadel offers weekly café, drive-in services, free lunches and other outreach programs

 

By Barb Sweet/The Telegram

In the foyer of the Salvation Army St. John's Citadel on Adams Avenue, three-year old Zuri is sitting patiently beside his mother, Carla Maboussou, while his siblings attend youth programs.

The foyer has been transformed into a makeshift coffee shop, as it is every Thursday night.

The room grows steadily noisier. Some parents are chatting, some reading, some amusing young children like Zuri.

The coffee and tea are free, an enticement to get parents to linger and chat rather than all spread out to their favourite Tim Hortons or back to their homes while their children attend programming.

Zuri's siblings, Averie, 8, and Jaxon, 6, are among those taking part in activities like singing and junior band.

And while Maboussou is a nurse with a busy life, church is important to her and her children.

"Not every Sunday, but as often as I can," she says of her worship attendance, which depends on her shift schedule.

She grew up with parents who moved around as Salvation Army officers.

"It's important to have core values," Maboussou said.

While many of her work colleagues don't go to church regularly, they never disrespect her faith, Maboussou said.

"Nobody is right or wrong. I haven't had to defend it," she said.

Tanya Tapp, who was waiting for her nine year old, began attending the Adams Avenue citadel in 2000, after moving to St. John's from Lewisporte.

"I'm probably the only one at my workplace who attends church regularly," she said, adding her family activities are organized to allow room for Sunday service and church involvement.

Some of the people she knows - of various faiths - don't go because it's not a top priority in their busy lives. Others don't agree with religion.

Thomas Marsh began attending the citadel when he moved to St. John's from Clarenville to attend Memorial University. A student of religious studies and history, he has thought about entering the Salvation Army clergy.

While he grew up in the church, he became even more interested while helping out back home during hurricane Igor in 2010.

His fiancée, Kristie Burton, is the youth pastor at Adams Avenue.

During Marsh's first year of university, he stayed in residence, where he was among three or four of 100 students who went to church.

But he and Burton say they are encouraged by the number of kids in church.

"There's a strong presence of youth," Marsh said.

Besides the Thursday coffee house, the citadel has used other ways to draw people to church and appeal to the community.

There is a mom and tots program. And the church has run a summer Sunday drive-in service, drawing on the army's evangelical roots.

It also puts on a Tuesday lunch for nearby high school students that serves about 50-100 teens, said Maj. Brian Wheeler, the pastor of about three years.

Like many faiths, the Salvation Army uses websites and Facebook, though Wheeler said it hasn't resorted to tweeting yet.

The Adams Avenue citadel is only 25 years old, so it doesn't face the issues some other metro churches have - it's not too big, it's well insulated and has modern energy efficiency.

But Wheeler said the Salvation Army across the province isn't much different than other denominations and faiths.

"I would say we face the same trend as some of the others," he said. "Many churches have aging congregations who have supported their church with attendance, finances, leadership and participation. And that generation into the '90s and 2000s is starting to get to the point they are too old to come and some are passing away. They're not always replaced by the next generation."

Many people are moving from rural areas of the province to metro, contributing to the younger audience at urban citadels like Adams Avenue. And the city citadels also attract students who come to the capital city to attend Memorial University.

Wheeler, who has been a clergyman for 23 years, grew up in the 1970s and has seen some of his generation drift away or become less engaged in religion.

But some are coming back, he said.

"The birth of children has a tendency to bring them back to church. They are also searching for what they had when they grew up and they somehow left it," he said.

"A lot of new parents have a tendency to come back to church. This congregation is fairly healthy that way. Other congregations may not be. This congregation hasn't been hit too hard - we're maintaining."

The citadel seats 450 people and on a typical Sunday about 350 file in, he said.

"Holidays we're full - extra chairs time," Wheeler said.

There are two services each Sunday - morning and evening. In summertime the evening service is the drive-in - attracting about 200 each time.

Children make up the second biggest portion of the congregation - behind older adults, Wheeler said.

So he acknowledges the tug on family time.

"But we're also looking at a very small allotment of time where parents have to make a choice between hockey, dance, drama, school, church activities," he said.

"And it's a continuous juggle. As a church, we have to appreciate the fact that not every family comes to every event. Which was historically what the church expected."

That's why the church came up with the idea of the café on Thursday nights while parents wait for youth activities to finish.

"Then it becomes time for their parents to have sit-down time and talk to each other. Which is important to church," Wheeler said.

"It builds a community. It builds fellowship. ... Church is a connection. If you fail to make a connection - not with the pastor - but if you fail to make a connection with the people in the church, you are not going to hang around. If your friends become the people at church and your support system become people at church, you're going to come to church."

And while the army sticks to its foundations of God and salvation for Jesus Christ, it recognizes it must be willing to accept people who are at different levels of faith, Wheeler said.

"Three-hundred-and-fifty people on a Sunday morning are all in different places ... what questions they have, what frustrations they have, what they actually believe that particular moment. Is God a vibrant reality for them or are they doubting? ... You can't do 10 sermons. You don't always have the answers. No one person has all the answers.

"Hopefully this is a place they will feel safe to ask or share."

bsweet@thetelegram.com

 

 

 

Organizations: Barb Sweet/The Telegram, The Telegram, Catholic Church His house Salvation Army Stack's Christian Brothers Stack and Associates Anglican Church Episcopal A5ReligionSalvation Army Tim Hortons

Geographic location: St. John's, Adams Avenue, Newfoundland Alberta Lewisporte Clarenville

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Recent comments

  • clara parsons
    February 08, 2013 - 09:17

    How refreshing to finally hear some truth coming from the two catholics Bishop & Priest. were both so right in a number of their comments, we have along long way to go in our church I hope to be around long enough to see it. Great job by everyone at the telegram, on this look at religion in this Province.

  • gord
    February 07, 2013 - 22:14

    Priest is only a profession but underneath is a human and that is how they should have been treated and encouraged the same privileges. The public are sometimes too quick to judge when things don't go as expected. This is definitely a case where the messengers got shot.

    • Florencd
      February 17, 2013 - 15:45

      Gord, you are WRONG. The priest is not just human. He is God's representative on earth. He is the only one on earth who has the power to change "bread and wine" into the "body and blood of Christ." Not just symbolically but an actual event. Jesus is placed right there on the alter. And, the pope is infalible and cannot do any wrong and knows all truthsand make decisions that come directly from God. These people with "special" powers are above all of us mortals. How could priests have any common human sexuality?.

  • Roger Simpson
    February 06, 2013 - 11:40

    Let's stop focusing on who created the earth and worry more about who's trying to destroy it. Forget the Churches and remember to be a good person.

  • saelcove
    February 06, 2013 - 10:55

    Religion is nothing but trouble look around the world, who in their right mind would listen to a priest

  • k
    February 06, 2013 - 10:21

    I guess Steve ,and Sheri think or believe all should be blamed.Never mind the innocent. So all are guilty. Sure would not want to make a nistake withj you present. Not all are the same.

  • Craig Jackson
    February 06, 2013 - 10:09

    I just finished reading Barb Sweet's latest on religion and the church. Father Lundrigan and the Archbishop truly painted the real picture of the RC Church. Change is a necessity for God's Word to continue. From the start of Barb's series until this piece on Lundrigan and Currie, the real story of today's religion has been unveiled through honest responses from Clergy and parishioners. Good job Barb Sweet for allowing people to see what needs to occur for religion and the Church to succeed. I also liked Andrew Robinson's piece on the church and its pews. Now, hopefully the articles will inspire my RC Church to strive for a better and brighter future, one that involves the parishioners.

  • Sheri
    February 06, 2013 - 09:20

    @ Steve...I sooo agree with your comment!!!

  • Steve
    February 06, 2013 - 08:10

    To Herb.....I guess you didn't go to Mt. Cashel or be asked to stay behind after service as many alter boys did. Get your head out of the sand Herb.

  • Sandra
    February 06, 2013 - 08:02

    I feel it is all a crock!!!!

  • Herb Morrison
    February 05, 2013 - 10:47

    As long as there exists one individual who has faith and believes in God and in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, the Church will survive. As long as people someone and something in which they can place both their Faith and trust, something that is not of this world. The organized Christian Church will survive. The reality that people fill the Sanctuary of the Church, where I am a member to capacity on Christmas Eve, the reality that people come in increasing numbers during Lent, and the reality that people come to the Church to be married or to have babies baptized, all of these realities attest to the fact that, despite the challenges faced by the Christian Churches of all traditions, as long as people have a need for what only God, through Christ, by the Power of the Holy Spirit can provide, the organized Christian Church will survive. Yet another reality faced by Christians is that we need to decide which is more important, our attachment to buildings and a particular form of Worship or our devotion to God and our commission, which comes from God through Christ to love and serve God through loving and serving others.