Parish Merger Set for July 1st. Church Buildings to Close, But Remain Available for Weddings, Etc.

A press release issued by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia provides further clarification on how the merger of Conshohocken and West Conshohocken’s four parishes will occur and what will happen to the three closed parishes (St. Gertrude, St. Mary and SS. Cosmas and Damian). The merger will become effective on July 1st. The release states:

In each instance of a merger, parishioners will attend daily and Sunday Mass at the church of the newly formed parish. The church(es) of the former parish(es) will become a worship site(es). Worship sites will be utilized for weddings, funerals and feast days, as well as traditional and ethnic devotions. Sunday Mass may also be celebrated at worship sites at the discretion of the pastor and the newly formed pastoral council and depending upon the availability of clergy.

Additionally, all parish property, assets and debts of any former parish will be assumed by the newly formed parish, which will also be responsible for the care of all sacramental records. The pastors from the merging parishes will form a transitional team made up of lay leaders from each of the merging parishes to assist in moving forward with forming the new parish community. The Archdiocese will provide ongoing guidance and support during the transition process.

SO the Archdiocese is saying that it isn’t planning to sell the closed building. While keeping the closed parish’s available for special occasions, the numbers do not really seem realistic. St. Gertrude’s celebrated zero weddings in 2012, the last year data is available. Saint Mary only celebrated eight weddings in 2012 and SS. Cosmas and Damian had 10. Even if you add in ethnic events and specific Feast Days, the churches will still not be used that often. Do you really maintain these properties for very limited use?

We tried to find information regarding the Archdiocese long term plan for the closed parishes, but the best we could do is this article from 2013 that was published by Hidden City Philadelphia. From the article:

Archdiocese officials say that few of the churches on the 2012 closure list have closed completely to the public. In most cases, including the four churches absorbed by mergers in the last month, a portion of their facilities will remain as temporary “worship sites,” where congregants may hold special events such as weddings and baptisms. They have indicated that only when a church is in a dangerous state of disrepair, such as the Ascension of Our Lord Church in Kensington, will immediate closure take place.

Critics caution that the “worship site” label is merely a convenient way for church officials to delay final closure, while the congregation dwindles further. And they say the worship site strategy only reinforces the ad hoc nature of the archdiocese’s response. Furthermore, according to a close observer of church preservation issues we spoke with, because each congregation is responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the church building, delaying almost certain decommissioning only exacerbates issues of deferred maintenance.

Whether the Archdiocese is on the up-and-up regarding keeping the properties or the “worship site” label is just a tactic to delay an eventual sale, it at least pushes these potential redevelopment projects down the road.