According to the Wall Street Journal, “construction of church buildings in the U.S., has fallen to the lowest level since private records began in 1967.”
That’s not a surprise. The Fifties and early Sixties saw a great surge in church attendance so these data don’t account for the likely building of many new churches in those years. Such structures are usually built to last for a long time, so it’s also not surprising that the number of new religious buildings has declined.
The WSJ concedes that with the recession more-or-less over, renovations and new building may move ahead again; however, its writers have decided that the decline “is a confluence of trends: a drop in formal religious participation, changing donation habits, a shift away from the construction of massive megachurches and, more broadly, a growing taste for alternatives to the traditional house of worship.”
Perhaps, but if these “trends” are as true as the writers seem to think, there should be a corresponding decline in the generosity (usually called “outreach”) by members of churches, synagogues and mosques to help the needy. Such work is an important component of nearly every religious organization, but no public or private agency makes an effort to put a numeric value to it. Charitable dollar donations of all kinds are recorded via tax returns, but that’s all.
An enterprising newspaper or magazine would do the nation a service by undertaking a survey of the number of hours donated to charitable work by members of these organizations in the names of said organizations.
Using modern survey techniques it should not be difficult to get information from a statistically reliable sample of these organizations in order to estimate the number of persons engaged, the average number of hours they spend on charitable “outreach” per week, then assign a value to it, possibly using the minimum wage as a yardstick. Outcome would likely be amazing.
Those active in this work will tell you it is very satisfying work, helping those who need a hand, whether it be in food, clothing or shelter.
Here is a summary of current programs taken from the weekly bulletin of a single church with approximately 250 active members:
• The Quilters’ Circle has just completed 12 colorful quilts and donated them to the hospital’s Radiation Oncology Center for its cancer patients.
• Warm outer clothing (sweaters, hats, gloves) and new socks for adults are being collected to give to a privately-supported local center that provides meals, clothing, and counseling to those in need who are trying to climb out of poverty and/or addiction;
• The Forgotten Initiative collects socks for children about to go to foster homes. Volunteers turn these over to TFI to be given to the children. (The collectors note that children often have short notice about moving to a foster home and may not have much clothing to take with them.)
• A member of the church had been supporting a Liberian college student in a U.S. college. She died suddenly and did not leave provision in her will to continue this aid. The church began a fund, raising enough to see the student through graduation and return to his home country. He is now married, has a young son, and a promising future in Liberia.
• In addition to these activities, members regularly volunteer to maintain the lawns and gardens around the church’s building. A little over a year ago, when the main building needed repainting, volunteer crews took turns doing the work, including painting the steeple from atop a “cherry-picker” on a crane.
• Members of this church have also donated $24,505 in 2014 nine charitable programs of other churches within their geographical section.
This is the season we recount our blessings. Isn’t time we counted them literally, lest readers and viewers of the news think only the federal government is capable of helping people?
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