New England's tough winter is starting to make headlines — on the religion beat:
The Associated Press reported over the weekend:
BOSTON (AP) -- Religious leaders in snowbound New England are beginning to ask themselves how on Earth their houses of worship will make ends meet after all these acts of God.
Churches, synagogues and mosques report attendance is down at services, as poorly timed winter storms have hit on or close to days of worship. And getting the faithful to come out is challenging, with limited parking and treacherously icy sidewalks plaguing the region.
For many places of worship, that has meant donations are drying up just as costs for snow removal, heating and maintenances are soaring.
"You have this perfect storm of people not being able to go to worship and so not bringing in offerings, combined with much higher than usual costs," says Cindy Kohlmann, who works with Presbyterian churches in Greater Boston and northern New England.
The AP lede's emphasis on "churches, synagogues and mosques" drew this response from Ira Rifkin, one of my fellow GetReligionistas:
Hmmm ... just the big three, once again. I believe the Boston area has more Buddhist centers than any other city in the nation (needs fact checking). But even if not, it's just the big three. America's more diverse than that.
Interesting point, and honestly, not one that would have struck me on my own. Indeed, Massachusetts has more Buddhists than Muslims, according to a 2010 demographic report by the Association of Religion Data Archives.
Still, give AP credit for a timely, enterprising religion angle on the weather.
But another national wire — Religion News Service — had the story a full 10 days earlier:
I enjoyed RNS national correspondent Lauren Markoe's creative opening:
(RNS) If God brought all this snow, he also made it very hard to get to church.
New Englanders, clobbered by four major storms in the past month and bracing for a fifth, are finding it difficult to travel anywhere, including to services on Sundays.
And the Rev. Andrew Cryans of Durham, N.H. — where more than 45 inches of snow fell in the past week alone — can’t help but notice that most of these meteorological whoppers have arrived on weekends, so that churchgoers might have a harder time getting to church than, say, school or work.
But the liturgy goes on, no matter how many show up, or how creative a pastor may have to get to connect with the flock. That can mean a priest snowshoes to work, or delivers a sermon via Facebook.
“I always tell parishioners that I live in the house behind the church, so it’s easy for me,” said Cryans, of St. Thomas More Catholic Church. “I’m here if you come and we will have Mass no matter how few of you there are.”
The Boston Globe, too, had a compelling take a couple weeks ago.
Once again, God makes the lede:
No act of God would deter them from Sunday worship.
Sunday’s blizzard seemed designed to test even the most dedicated churchgoers, but across the region, churches drew on a reservoir of Yankee ingenuity to adapt to the weather and connect with their congregations.
Many churches simply declared a snow day, leaving would-be attendees to trudge home through the deepening snow. But others came up with innovative alternatives: a Marshfield church live-streamed a service from a living room couch; some churches held Sunday services a day early; a Jamaica Plain church conducted prayers of the people via Facebook; and others e-mailed hymns and readings ahead of time so people could conduct their own services at home.
Other churches refused to yield to the storm and opened their doors as usual, even if for just a few hardy souls.
Ironically, the most revealing New England religion story that I came across in my Googling featured a "snow" photo but actually has nothing to do with the weather.
Instead, the Hartford Courant reported on the latest Gallup poll concerning weekly religious attendance:
If the last time you walked into a church was at Christmas or for someone’s wedding, you’re not alone. At least not in New England.
Only 25 percent of Connecticut residents say they attend religious services every week, according to a recent poll — one of the lowest rates in the nation.
Elsewhere in New England, attendance is lower still. In Vermont, only 17 percent said they attend religious services weekly — the lowest rate in the nation — and 71 percent said they attend “seldom or never,” the highest rate in the nation, according to the Gallup poll, which surveyed 177,000 Americans throughout 2014.
New Hampshire's weekly attendance rate was 20 percent, as was Maine's. Twenty-two percent of Massachusetts residents said they went to church every week, and Rhode Island residents claimed the highest rate in New England at 28 percent.
Why is attendance at religious services so low in New England? A number of factors come into play — including competition for our time, the region’s racial characteristics, and the role of church in society, experts said.
Many GetReligion readers will recognize the names of the experts quoted: Scott Thumma, Stephen Prothero and Mark Silk. All are excellent choices for expert insight.
But experts are all that the Courant quoted. I found myself curious about the takes of ordinary New Englanders and religious leaders. Their perspectives, methinks, would make for some intriguing reading on a snowy day.