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“Mass extinction” has taken on a new meaning. A national charity that works to save old buildings estimates that 9,000 churches in Canada will be lost in the next decade.
The oncoming loss of churches should perhaps be no surprise, as in many ways, the writing has been on the wall for some time now.
In April of 2018, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint John announced it was “no longer in a positive financial situation,” along with plans to close several of its church buildings.
Between April and September, nine churches have shut their doors, including one church in the Fredericton region, three in the Miramichi region and five in the Saint John region.
“I don’t take any pleasure in closing churches,” Bishop Robert Harris told CBC News. “We did what we had to do.”
The changing makeup of Canada
Canadians who identify as non-religious make up the second fastest spiritual affiliation in the country, following Islam, which just outpaces atheism for the number one fastest growing religious affiliation.
Take Saskatchewan, for example. In Govan, Sask., a town with a population of 197, there used to be seven active churches. Today, five of those have shut their doors for good, as just the Lutheran and Catholic churches remain, hosting part-time services and funerals.
On the contrast, the Islamic centre in Saskatoon has experiencing a steady upward trajectory in terms of attendance.
“Friday services have been split in two so local streets aren’t clogged with traffic. City officials and nearby residents are working with the centre to answer questions like where to put more parking?”
In the very Catholic province of Quebec, over 30 of the 54 churches near Montreal were slated for closure, according to a report by the Diocese of St-Jerome, with local congregations now scrambling to find ways to keep the doors open.
Around the world
We see the trend of closing churches happening not just within our nation, but internationally.
Take Wales, for example.
In 2017, the BBC reported that the last decade saw 110 Anglican churches shut their doors for good, an average of just over 10 per year and a loss of just about 8 percent of their total churches.
It should be noted, the last census revealed Wales had the highest number of people with no religion in the UK.
The National Churches Trust said “the rate of closures in Wales was relatively higher than England, given relative population size, where about 20 close each year.”
In England, a 2015 report by the BBC revealed that the near future would include “thousands” of church closings, apart of a new plan being considered by the Church of England.
The Church says the old parish system “may no longer be sustainable, as congregation numbers dwindle.”
Most of the blame is being attributed to the ageing demographics of churchgoers, the increasing secularity of the West, while accepting more immigrants and refugees from non-Christian regions of the world
According to the Irish Times, the Emerald Isle is not prone to the disappearance of churches.
In Dublin, a recent report found that mass attendance was set to drop by one-third by 2030, with the number of priests serving in parishes expected tall by 60 percent.
Unfortunately, these are the most optimistic projections. “A report prepared for the Dublin Council of priests by external consultants notes that if religious congregations such as the Redemptorists or Jesuits redeploy their priests from parish duties, then Dublin will be left with just 111 priests in 2030 – a drop of 70 per cent.”
It’s a worrying time for the Catholic church, who not only are dealing with troubles surrounding churches closing, but are in the middle of one of their largest scandals in recent history. The sexual abuse scandal allegations surrounding hundreds of priests globally is certainly not doing any favours to the church, who are trying to increase mass attendance, not scare people away.
With changing demographics and an ageing population, only time will tell what will happen to the thousands of Churches across the West. One thing is for certain; things do not look good for the Catholic Church.