A diocese in Illinois proposed a plan to merge and close several churches in its region by next summer, as Mass attendance has dropped by as much as 66% in some of its churches since 2015.
In the proposed plan, five parishes are set to merge into one, and another three parishes are set to merge into one, while at least five churches are “not recommended for future use” and are likely to close.
In some instances of merging, both churches remain open for parishioners to pray in the chapel, but Mass is said primarily at one of the parishes. In others, the secondary chapel may still be used for weddings, baptisms, and other sacraments but not for regular Mass. There are other cases where the secondary parish closes entirely, and its parishioners join the new parish.
The Diocese of Peoria in northern Illinois has seen a decrease in attendance in several parishes. In 2022, local Illinois parish Corpus Christi’s weekly Mass attendance was 162, a 66% drop in Mass attendance since 2015. Eight of the other parishes in the diocese also saw a steady decline in their Mass attendance since 2015, varying from 15% to 61% decreases.
The Diocese of Peoria requested parishioners to share input on the Growing Disciples Pastoral Plan, which proposed merging and closing several churches afflicted by the attendance decline.
Along with merging parishes, the diocese is also considering revising the Mass schedule “to determine [the] best schedule to promote vibrant liturgy.”
Bishop Louis Tylka said in a statement regarding the plan, “The world we live in today is different from the world known to previous generations and we therefore need to find new ways of doing things. We have fewer priests. Fewer Catholics. Fewer children. People are moving. Our task is to reimagine the way we reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ!”
According to Fr. Lee Brokaw, who serves at one of the parishes that is proposed to close, the plan is not yet finalized.
“Final decisions have not been made yet, and these models have been released in order to foster and receive feedback on them to determine how to proceed,” Brokaw told local news outlet WGIL.
He added, “To clarify: at this time, we still only have a model, a proposal, and no decisions have been made. For any church that is ultimately designated as ‘not in use at the end of this process, decisions will need to be made on a case-by-case basis about the best approach to take considering the circumstances and options available.”
Brokaw also said that they do not currently have answers to “what will happen to locations designated ‘not in use’ at the end of this process.”
Parishioners have until November 22, 2023, to provide feedback about the proposal. Tylka will announce the final decisions about the plan in May of next year.