Once you’ve identified and made note of the reasons (or at the very least the reasons publicly given) for the closure of your parish and/or church, you need to undertake some honest analysis as to the circumstances on the ground. While identifying weaknesses is never fun, this is essential before you take any action to try and challenge the closure, for several reasons. First, there may be valid reasons that have led your bishop or archbishop to order your church and/or parish closed. THIS IS NOT TO SAY THAT YOUR PARISH AND/OR CHURCH SHOULD CLOSE; there may merely be reasons that lead to it being possible for these actions to be taken, on account of the presence of “grave” or “just” causes, or both, which could allow for the justifiable closure of parishes and/or churches. It is important to note that just because such causes are present does not mean that they cannot be dealt with; if the problems that can justify the closure of your parish and/or church can be eliminated, then the closure itself may be far easier to challenge. In order to know if such problems exist and if so to plan to address them, it is important that you consider the health of your parish, and the church in which it worships.
The following questions may help you identify weaknesses in your church and/or parish which could lead to justifications being present for its closure. These questions do not address all potential weaknesses that a church or parish might face. When thinking about potential weaknesses your parish may face, consider the following, does the parish have a deficit? Is the number of people who are members of the parish smaller than it was in years past? Does the parish offer sacramental programing, i.e. marriage preparation, religious education for children, groups for adult parish members such as societies and sodalities that allow them to deepen their prayer life, engage in the corporal works of mercy, etc.? Is the age of the membership of the parish skewed heavily toward the elderly, so that once these members go home to God, few will remain? If your parish was established to serve individuals from a specific linguistic or ethnic population, are members of that population still involved in parish life?
With regard to a church, ask yourself the following questions concerning weaknesses it may face. Is the church in good repair? Are their issues associated with deferred maintenance, especially issues that will cost a substantial sum of money to address, that the church faces? Are the expenses associated with the church’s continued maintenance and upkeep (including those associated with utilities) presently being met by the parish in which the church is located, and are those expenses taking away from other parish programs? What maintenance issues might the church face in the future, and are their funds available to address these issues which do not impact the funding sources of other parish programs? How many people attend masses and other events held at the church? Once you ask and answer all of these questions regarding your parish and/or church, you are ready to move on to the next step.
Having identified the weaknesses your parish and/or church may be experiencing at the time a closure threat is looming, you now need to look at what strengths may be present. Often, parishes and/or churches targeted for closure have strengths which if leveraged properly may be able to offset and counteract weaknesses which may also be present. Perhaps you are lucky and you found no weaknesses associated with your parish and/or church; the pews are full every Sunday with people from a wide range of ages who contribute to the collection basket and thus ensure that no maintenance issues remain outstanding. If however you did find your parish and/or church suffers from one or more weaknesses, think about what strengths may also be present that could be used to address the weaknesses you found. Examples of questions you might ask yourself as you consider this issue are, if the church suffers from deferred maintenance issues, what are they? How much will it cost to fix these issues? Are members of the congregation aware of the fact that these issues are outstanding? Can people be asked to contribute, either immediately or over time to raise the funds necessary to address these issues? Can people be asked to contribute immediately or over time to address maintenance and upkeep issues which have not arisen yet but which may need to be addressed in the future? Can people who may live far from the church now, but who have some past connection to it be contacted and asked to contribute toward repairs to the church and keeping it in good repair? Can more people in the local area be found and convinced to become involved in the maintenance and upkeep of the church, either through labor or donations, regardless of whether they attend it? Often times when you ask yourself these questions, you think of solutions to the problems you may have found when considering weaknesses that you might not have previously considered. Once you have thought about your parish and/or church’s strengths and weaknesses, and how strengths might be able to be used to correct weaknesses, you can move on to considering how to challenge the closing itself.