Editorial: Cornwall church’s plight is the town’s plight as well

The plight of the First Congregational Church in Cornwall should send warning signals throughout the county’s rural towns. Dwindling rural populations and a declining interest in religious services by younger generations has led to smaller congregations — sometimes so small that the closing of a church becomes a likelihood.
The 215-year-old Cornwall church, which has served five generations of Vermonters dating back to 1785, has a congregational of about 50 with about 15 who typically show up for Sunday services. With a large building to maintain and dwindling participation, it’s right to ask if those numbers can realistically maintain an active and viable church.
The concern here is not where this congregation might go to meet if the church were to close and sell (there are ample seats available in nearby churches), but of the services lost to the community. From outreach to families in need (often helping to provide food and shelter) to providing comfort in times of grief, churches have traditionally been one of the first places families turn to and to which communities rally when hard times strike.
Congregations throughout the county and state also do worlds of good for the community, state and nation with the number of charities they help support and actions of good faith they routinely carry out. To be without a vibrant church lessens the strength and vitality of our communities.
It’s not that Cornwall or any other community would not survive. It’s not the end of the world. Change happens and one of the changes underway is that younger families prefer being nearer to city centers (or in them), rather than the rural countryside. And today younger generations, particularly in Vermont, are less religious. Small rural churches will need to accommodate those changes in the smartest ways possible, and Cornwall is wise to initiate the discussion through a town-wide survey well before the end is nigh.
They have time to plan, to strategize for the best use of the building as well as how to serve the community and its parishioners in the most productive way. To that end, it’s important to note that churches like Cornwall’s are often seen as community assets even though the responsibility, fiscally and otherwise, falls on just a few church members. It is, in other words, a community concern, not just the concern of a few church-going members.

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