In Philadelphia, several historic Orthodox Christian parishes are on their last legs, because times have changed and so have the demographics of the areas they serve. From a long, interesting report in the Philadelphia Inquirer;
Therein lies the challenge for the five historic Eastern Orthodox churches in Northern Liberties, some hanging on for dear life on this one-third-square-mile patch north of Old City. Their very reason for existence – the Eastern European immigrant wave of the early 20th century – has come and gone from a neighborhood transformed into Philadelphia’s trendiest avant-garde niche, population about 5,000 and climbing.
“I don’t see much interest in religion in these people,” said the Rev. Vincent Saverino of St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox Church, which marked its 100th anniversary last month.
Attendance may swell to nearly 300 on holy days – including the Orthodox Christmas on Thursday – but on routine Sundays it is about 60. As in the other Orthodox churches, not one member is from the neighborhood.
“They come from all over, just not here,” Saverino said, twirling a finger to indicate Northern Liberties.
A sad story. While it’s true that younger people today aren’t as religiously inclined as folks were 50 years ago, why would someone go to liturgy in a language he or she doesn’t understand? How many of these hipsters are going to be inclined to worship in Old Church Slavonic? As one neighborhood resident tells the reporter, he would “love to have a conversation with the Orthodox, but I’m not sure how to start it.” To paraphrase Burke’s ironic observation, a religion without the ability to change is one that is without the means of its own conservation.
Interestingly, St. Nicholas’s, an OCA parish in this group, does worship in English, but there are other barriers to outreach, it appears:
The two other Russian Orthodox churches, St. Nicholas and St. Michael, tried to widen their appeal decades ago by switching to English liturgies. “We wouldn’t have survived otherwise,” said the latter’s pastor, Saverino.
Both also dropped Russian from their names.
But an infusion of young ecospiritual neighbors is not necessarily what they want.
At St. Nicholas, membership was 1,000 when Bohush arrived 33 years ago. Now it is 100, and the nearest congregant lives in King of Prussia. They are generous enough to keep the church alive, he said, and he would not want high-powered newcomers threatening “their authority, their prestige.”