A Parish Closes But Never Dies
During this period in our American church when inner city parishes are closing and large suburban ones are opening and growing, a sadness emerges at the loss of the grandeur and splendor and relationships reflected in the buildings shuttered because of few resources and even fewer parishioners. Beautiful churches with their stained glass, strong marble, and open spaces no longer stand as gathering places because not enough people gather any more.
Christ Our King Parish in Wilmington was officially closed on Sunday, October 30, after 90 years of faithful service to countless families and school children and yearning souls.Bishop W. Francis Malooly announced the soberly sad words to conclude the 90-minute Mass: “I hereby declare Christ Our King Parish closed.” He then tied a velvet rope around the doors of the church, after which more than 800 worshippers sang the grade school’s alma mater.
Prior to this closing ritual, he and former pastor, Fr. Joe Brennan, OSFS, walked throughout the standing-room-only church to stop and offer prayers at the baptismal font, a confessional, a station of the cross, the pulpit, and the altar to give thanks for the grace of the sacraments and devotions celebrated and prayed through the 90 years. In his homily, Bishop Malooly praised the laity for being the church, reminding us that the church is so much more than bricks and mortar, although the physical space is loved and honored. He offered thanks for so many relocated parishioners returning from their suburban churches to pray and hailed the faith they took from Christ Our King, assuring all that the closing parish will continue to give life for generations. He also acclaimed the small number of parishioners who worked so hard to maintain the social outreach ministries in recent years, ministries that will, in fact, continue.
Yes, sadness abounds when a beloved parish closes; it could almost feel like a death. Yet, life abounds, for the faith that was born and nurtured in one location is seeded in new places. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). These words of Jesus give hope and can heal the pain and sorrow of certain losses. They are also a promise: Jesus died, but his body—the Body of Christ—has borne much fruit. We, the People of God, are this grace to the world, and we live forever. As a church, we will never die, even though our churches will close.