The July 8 article “As churches close, a way of life fades” was incomplete and misleading. The majority of the article described what is happening in small-town, rural Minnesota, while the conclusions and various headings such as “Test of faith: The unchurching of America” generalize about all of Minnesota and all of America.
The article fails to mention that rural, small towns are aging and declining in population, which affects business and schools and all aspects of life, including churches. Another notable deficiency was the source data focusing only on three mainline churches and the Catholic Church. Actually, the Catholic Church has not suffered the rapid decline in members. Then, absent in the discussion about the loss of members in the mainline churches is the fact that they decided to abandon traditional teaching following the Bible and liberalized their theology. As a result, they have lost significant numbers of churches and members to other denominations.
A final major omission is the lack of data or discussion of the growth in evangelical churches and nondenominational churches. As the Star Tribune reported on Dec. 2, 2017 (“Faithful are flocking to Burnsville church”), Berean Baptist was the 10th-fastest-growing church in the U.S. from 2016 to 2017; Eagle Brook, with 22,000 members at six Twin Cities campuses, was the 11th-fastest-growing; and River Valley, with eight locations and 8,400 members attending worship each week, was among the top 50 fastest-growing churches.
Including all denominations and churches in the July 8 article would have presented a more accurate picture.
Bruce Peterson, Eagan
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Neither reporters nor statistics can possibly tell the whole story in the limited space allotted. The fine front-page article on church decline and closings was no exception. For example, while the reported 41 percent decline of Presbyterian Church U.S.A. membership both nationally and here in the Twin Cities area is true, it had a very different accelerant than the factors listed in the story. In our case, it was the decision of a group of conservative congregations to leave the denomination over the PCUSA’s firm and full inclusion and acceptance of persons who identify as LGBTQ into the offices and ministries of the church. Absent that exodus, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. would have lost members, but not nearly at the rate the article showed. To be sure, we know we have much work to do in the PCUSA. We face the same challenges the article rightly named. But across the Twin Cities and the rest of Minnesota, you will find active, vital Presbyterian congregations, their doors wide open to all people, and their minds and hearts committed to their communities and neighborhoods with the love and justice found through Jesus. That’s a part of the story, too, a way of life for us Presbyterians that has not faded and will not fade in the future.
Jeffrey Japinga, Eagan
The writer is executive presbyter for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area.
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The article pointed to steep declines in the number of churches, child baptisms and membership. The presentation included a graph showing membership changes for the following denominations: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church and Roman Catholic. I am going to address the denomination I am familiar with, the ELCA.
The article states that the ELCA in Minnesota has lost almost 200,000 members and about 150 churches since 2000. Abiding Word Ministries reports that nationally “693 congregations have successfully taken their first and/or second votes to leave the ELCA since August 2009 … . Total baptized membership loss to ELCA from these congregations stands at 336,369.”
This free-fall of members and churches leaving the ELCA took place after a polarizing vote at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis.
Many of the members and churches that left became affiliated with various Lutheran bodies but primarily with Lutheran Congregations in Missions for Christ (LCMC) and North American Lutheran Churches (NALC). Hopefully, this clarifies that many of the people who left the ELCA have not become “unchurched” but have been “rechurched.”
Thomas A. Peterson, Howard Lake, Minn.
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The article helped to point out a lot more than the decrease in Christian participation in churches. At the same time this decline has occurred, there seems to have been a huge rise of in-your-face name-calling, blaming and judging of others by larger segments of society than in the past. Intolerance used to be appropriately directed at behaviors in the political realm, where folks constantly support or do not support the choices of others as others act out or express what they are going to do in daily life. Today intolerance of who people are is evident with attacks on thoughts, feelings, creeds, etc.
The article also points out a fact apparently not understood clearly even today. A Pew report mentions that 1 in 5 Americans now have no religious affiliation. This report would depend on how “religious” is defined and could in fact be extremely worrisome to everyone. It is a given that in order to function independently, every single person here today has a spiritual/philosophical or religion/belief system — the guide for learning and growth in a search for meaning and a place in the world. “Save the planet/go green” and “Love God/pray” have the same value in this system. Our country is often witnessing the tragic mental and physical consequences when there is failure to acquire this guide necessary to learn and grow and to express life as the same human struggle involving the same needs.
Sally Hughes, Grey Eagle, Minn.
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“Unchurching” can be interpreted several ways. One, as the July 8 article does, describes the decline in religious affiliation and the attendant problems associated with it, including the loss of members and maintaining an often-aging building. The other is the loss of the actual buildings — of historic houses of worship that illustrate what makes our nation so unique, the diversity of faiths of the people who settled. (One example has been the division over the fate of the fire-damaged Church of St. Mary in Melrose, Minn. — “Restore or raze,” March 11.)
Yes, many of these buildings are threatened, and all cannot be saved, but there are choices that can be made. Historic houses of worship can be restored and reused for other purposes. Examples include Trinity Lutheran Church in Henning, Minn., which is to become an art center; B’nai Abraham Synagogue in Virginia, Minn., now a museum and cultural center; and, as the article reports, St. Paul’s On the Hill Episcopal Church, which will be transformed into a performing arts center. By reusing these historic buildings — by keeping them a part of our towns and neighborhoods — we are keeping alive the memory of the people who settled here and the history of our nation’s founding as a safe haven for all people, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.
Marilyn J. Chiat, Minnetonka