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.
by GIANNA DECARLO EDITOR@BALTIMOREGUIDE.COM