¡De vuelta a la escuela!
“Hybrid” Diocesan Convention Planned for 2021
2021 Wardens’ Conference: Presentations and Recorded Sessions
A Child and a Miracle
A Sunday School Pandemic Journal
ACT: 50 Years and Looking Forward
Are We Teaching Our Children How to Live?
Arts Education Amidst a Pandemic
Back to School!
Breath of Freedom: Rural and Migrant Ministry’s Summer Overnight Leadership Camp
Campus Ministry Across the Diocese
Confirmands Get Creative
Covid on (and Off) Campus
Developing The Next Generation of Leaders
Diocesan Protocols for Covid 19 Now Mirror Those of the State of New York
Episcopal Charities Receives $1 Million Anonymous Donation
Episcopal Futures Learning Communities Launched at Pentecost
Grace Year: In Preparation for Leadership for the Common Good
Hacer espacio para dejar que los niños nos guíen
Introducing Rev. Kevin W. VanHook, II, the New Executive Director of Episcopal Charities
Jonathan Daniels Pilgrims Reflect
Kelly Latimore: Iconographer of a New Imago Dei
Make Space to Let the Children Lead Us
Mission of Our Youth: Poverty in New York
New Executive Director for Episcopal Charities
New Youth Grantmaking Board at Christ’s Church, Rye
Palm Sunday Hospitality with 10- and 11-Year-Olds
Pennoyer Appointed Head of Grace Church School
PPP Loans: Reminder to Congregations to Apply for Loan Forgiveness if You Qualify
Prayers from Our Hearts
Report from the St. Margaret’s and St. Luke’s Branches of the Girls’ Friendly Society
Seeing Past the Horizon
The Journey
Un niño y un milagro
Video Hit: St. James’ children’s ministries series Did You Know?
Voices Heard: A Diocese Explores Pathways Toward Reparations
We Need All Ages
When I Was a Child: The Beginnings of Faith
Home » On the Road to a Successful Parish Merger in Orange County
Print this article

On the Road to a Successful Parish Merger in Orange County

Published in the issue.

Many shrinking congregations are today contemplating closing their doors.  Covid-19, aging congregations and fewer young people are among the reasons. But where there are two churches geographically near to one another, a church merger offers many viable possibilities for reviving the health and welfare of both parishes. Such arrangements can certainly be very complicated. Their success depends in part on some good chemistry, clear and transparent communication, and being open to the Holy Spirit.

At the Orange County parishes of St. Paul’s, Chester and St. Anne’s, Washingtonville we have chosen this route—with a twist. In the first stage, we are keeping both churches open while alternating worship services each week between the two locations (which are nine miles apart). We feel this step is essential in order to create a sense of oneness at the outset among the members of our two parishes. By taking it, both congregations can worship together and develop personal bonds among members before deciding, in stage 2, which church building to sell. The funds from that sale can then be used to build and fortify the resulting community.

There are reasons why this merger is likely to work. The two communities have a common vision. The leadership of the two congregations is learning from this process the importance of certain shared virtues—foremost of which are being non-judgmental and willing to put more effort into listening to each other than in talking. Good listening takes much more effort but pays big dividends in making things happen. In addition, a healthy church community requires a safe space in which all of our members can be heard and appropriately supported. What are needed are lovers and supporters, not bystanders—and the wisdom to discern between loving and enabling.

St. Ann’s, Washingtonville

Most religious groups adhere to two main principals: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. It sounds so simple and is heard so often, but it is very, very hard to do. Who are our neighbors—do we get to pick and choose the ones that agree with us and look like we do? Does judging cripple our efforts to support our neighbors? What kind of support do our neighbors really need?

The need in the process of melding our two Episcopalian congregations to listen to the points of view of others and take account of their personal needs can help us, the parishioners, to discern what love requires of us. At the same time, the efforts we expend in preserving our two parishes will create a place for others to come for spiritual renewal, learning, and healing; to be uplifted by religious music; and to experience a supportive religious community—a community that disregards ethnic backgrounds and the gender of the person one chooses to love in marriage. Indeed, this is a space where all can come to confront the ultimate questions to which we all, at different junctures in our lives, need answers—such as: from where does the meaning in life come? From where does true security derive? Is it from social status, or from finances, or from jobs, or exclusive social groups, or from iPhones and digital devices?

It is important for church leaders to have the humility to know that no group of humans has a lock on the truth. In our case, those leaders, including the Rev. Claire Lofgren, who has been priest-in-charge at St. Anne’s for the last three years, are ready and willing to go down the road less traveled with those who wish to uncover the true meaning in their lives. Our newly-configured churches continue to offer weddings, baptisms, Eucharists, and funerals. Welcome and rejoice.