St. Brigid’s aims for more diverse and younger parishioners

The school building that St. Brigid’s once owned was sold to a developer that has plans to turn it into an apartment complex. | Photo by Chris Broughton.

The school building that St. Brigid’s once owned was sold to a developer that has plans to turn it into an apartment complex. | Photo by Chris Broughton.

While local churches are going through a time of celebration with the Easter season approaching, they are also undergoing a time of transition as well.

For St. Brigid’s Catholic Church on Ellwood Ave, they are facing a defining time of change and innovation all in a quest to keep the historic church afloat and to bring in new parishioners. 

For parish council chairman, Chris Broughton, a lot of the problems stem from a society that is growing less and less involved in religion, especially in the younger generations.

He says now is the time to make concrete decisions on how “to alter the way we do things in order to reach those people and bring them back into the church.”

He said that he sees a growing issue with parishioners who attend the church, but don’t really get themselves involved. He says that so often he sees people come to service by themselves and then leave once it’s over without talking to anybody. And without parishioner involvement, raising money becomes even more of a Goliath to defeat. 

“It’s gonna be a real challenge to think out of the box to raise funds and you can’t really depend on collections because you’d be in the red all the time,” Broughton said. Another speed bump was that St. Brigid’s was unable to do its traditional fundraiser, a carnival, this year due to a lack of space. This difficulty lead to some creative thinking that would not only raise funds, but get the attention of a younger audience.

Broughton’s idea is to host a Food Truck Rally on June 13th for the church, tapping into something inter-connected and unique to the community. After working with the Maryland Mobile Food Vendor Association, they decided to create an experience that none of the other churches have done. Although, when he brought this idea to the diocese, they were mostly confused.

Broughton says that another one of the issues with the diocese is that they are made up of older people that hire even older people to become priests and nuns. This is harmful to the goal because it counteracts any progress that Broughton, only 35 years old, has done to diversify the church.

St. Brigid’s history is one of the vastest of all the churches of Baltimore, it being founded 1854 in its Canton location. Until recently the church owned multiple buildings near the church, like a rectory next door and a schoolhouse. The three-story, 29,000 sq. ft. schoolhouse hasn’t hosted classes in years. Last year, the church made the decision to sell the schoolhouse to developer Bill Link who now plans to turn it into an apartment complex. 

Broughton is fine with this change because Link had said that he would keep the historical structure of the 100 year old building in tact. But it brings up problems because that space is where the church used to host most of its fundraising events and where members of the church worked. 

With the buildings that St. Brigid’s still owns, Broughton hopes to modernize them by creating spaces for the community.

“Once we have the rectory renovated and have a event hall, we hope to rent out the space for a very reasonable rate to small businesses looking for space. Meaning if someone is starting a yoga class or something of that nature,” he says, “also we will look into renovating our basement into a retail space for something like a coffee shop. I would like to also explore renovating the 3rd floor as a rentable apartment so the church has a few monthly income items.”

This issue isn’t exclusive to St. Brigid’s, many churches are having to make similar choices in order to keep their heads above water during this transitional period, according to Broughton. He references how Our Lady of Pompeii Church had to sell their school recently too. 

Along with these changes, is an attempt to shorten the weekly masses. Broughton wants the service to be a succinct 40 minutes by eliminating downtime and perfecting the shorter mass through practice runs and parishioner opinions. 

“I have been timing our masses for the last 2 months and know where there is inefficiency and dead space and will make sure we tighten it up. We realize that people nowadays have less free time and we want a mass that will fit in people’s schedule and in turn get them involved in our parish. Attracting repeat attendees is easier if they enjoy the time they spend at the church,” he said.


4 Comments on "St. Brigid’s aims for more diverse and younger parishioners"

  1. Chris Broughton April 3, 2015 at 6:00 pm ·

    John, while I agree that society does little to foster spirituality and people should not “squeeze in” their time of worship, it is the reality that all churches face. Many churches are in dire need of new ideas to get young people involved because the old ways no longer work. Churches just like all businesses (and yes they are a business) need to evolve to survive. In Fact, Churches HAVE evolved in the past to survive, this isn’t a new phenomenon, not so long ago, Saturday worship was not acknowledged as a Mass and only called a “Prayer Service” which meant that even if you went on Saturday, you were still expected to go on Sunday for Mass. What I aim to improve about the mass at St Brigid, is the time spent waiting because people are unprepared. As an example: The pages of Father’s Bible need to be bookmarked before mass and opened by the alter server and ready for him as soon as he stands to read. There is about 5-7 minutes of wasted time because of small details like this and that is what I aim to improve. The efficiency of the mass. The more time spent waiting, the more people drift off and get bored (this is not just the young people that do this, I have witnessed this by everyone from 9-90.) The less people get bored at mass, the more likely they are to come back and participate in other events in the future. Churches must be hyper-competitive in this climate to survive., and thinking outside the box is necessary. Again to reiterate:
    1. I do not wish to cut a single thing from mass
    2. I only wish to make it efficient
    3. It will stay liturgically correct
    4. I only wish to make the mass more efficient by about 7 minutes max
    5. Father Joe’s Masses are generally in the 45-50 minute range as it stands

    I look at it this way: Someone who spends 45 minutes in Church a week is better than none at all

  2. Carl Rove March 31, 2015 at 10:18 am ·

    nice job

  3. John Micciche March 28, 2015 at 1:29 am ·

    Approximately 100 years ago, the Highlandtown-Canton-Fells Point area was populated by many Catholic immigrants from Poland, Ireland, Germany and Italy to name a few. Many churches were established and thrived as they serviced the spiritual and educational needs of these various groups. Over time, many families that grew from these roots moved ‘out of the city,’ resulting in a permanent loss of attendance. Unable to financially support themselves, several churches and schools were closed, of necessity. This is the reality of population relocation.

    Many of those people were involved in the spiritual activities of their churches. Spirituality was essential in their lives– not something ‘squeezed in’ to their ‘busy schedules;’ rather, they planned their activities around their spiritual obligations.

    No doubt- ‘society’ does little to foster ‘spirituality’ in its members– quite the opposite. But each of us is a member of that society, and bear some blame. What do we do, every day, to change this trend? “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness…” If parents and other family members do not live and teach the importance of attending Mass (or other spiritual events) because it does not ‘fit into their busy schedule,’ or it ‘takes too long,’ then why act surprised when youth mirrors this attitude? They learned it somewhere….

    To view the Sunday Mass as ‘time sensitive’ to fit into one’s ‘busy schedule,’ is to fail to understand the most basic reason for attending- this is time spent in public worship of/personal communion with God. In the book of Revelation, we read… “Who would dare refuse you honor, or the glory due Your name, O Lord!”

    Worship is not a business with ‘repeat customers.’ As a parish/parish council, pray for Divine guidance and seek to meet the spiritual needs of those who come to worship. Seek out ways to create sustainable income that promotes the mission for which St. Brigid was originally established.

  4. Dr. Daniel bertrand-bennett March 26, 2015 at 6:03 pm ·

    Mygrandparents and parents were married at this church. I now live in Florida and so sad to hear of the fantastic churches n Baltimore closing, it i lls me. I myself went to st. Elizabeth and archbishop curley back in the 70’s& 80’s. Miss Baltimore so much. Pray for future success.

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