Two Episcopal churches, Saint Andrew’s in North Grafton and Saint John’s in Sutton, seeking creative solutions to grow their congregation in a modern world, have decided to join hands in their spiritual journeys.
Sitting in an office at Saint Andrew’s, Reverend Laura B. Goodwin and Reverend Lisa Green aren’t calling it a merger, but an emerging effort as they and many other churches around the country cope with declining attendance and budget gaps.
“OK, God. What do we do?” Goodwin said recalling a prayerful moment. For now, the two churches are asking their congregation of 30 to 35 in each community to alternate celebrating Mass in each town. For the remainder of February, Sunday worship will be at St. Andrew’s. In March, they will meet in Sutton. “The journey is to decide if it makes sense to bring the community together,” said Goodwin. That also includes their monthly “Messy Church” service designed to appeal to families and others who prefer a more relaxed, less formal worship.
The two women say they are responding to shift from a secular to a more individualistic culture that includes an increase in two-income households and the workload that comes with it. “Life is very different, but people still have spiritual needs,” said Goodwin. Among them, they said, include dealing with addiction, stress and being overworked. There is no space in their lives, they said, but people are still hungry for a sense of peace.
Both churches have been a cornerstone of their communities since the 19th century but have discovered (as both congregations got to know each other) they share a vision and similar desires. “It came from worshiping together,” said Green. Each church also has their identity. Saint John’s has been active with Bernice’s Community Cupboard, a food pantry that serves neighboring communities, including South Grafton. “There is a fair amount of poverty in Wilkinsville,” Green said, referring to a section of Sutton.
Saint Andrew’s has been busy with the Coalition for a Healthy Grafton, a grassroots effort to approach mental and substance abuse problems while also promoting healthier eating and more physical activity.
Regardless if their worshippers are in one church or the other at any time, the rectors said it isn’t important. “You can take the buildings away, but we’ll still have a community,” Goodwin said.
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