Every year, shortly after the close of the fiscal year on June 30, the Archdiocese asks for a report on the sacramental life of each parish and on other comings and goings of people in the parish. I submitted our report this past Monday.
The first thing to note in our sacramental records is that the number of funerals remains small and did not increase from the previous year (Who is not happy about that?). We had ten funerals between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, and we also had ten funerals between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016. The number of infant baptism grew from 50 in 2014-2015 to 58 in 2015-2016. Five adults completed the RCIA process and were baptized or received into the Catholic Church at the Easter, 2015. Ten were baptized or received into the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass this year. This past year we celebrated 82 weddings, down from a record number of 91 the previous year.
When this Archdiocese puts all of these sacramental records from all the parishes together, certain trends emerge. One very obvious trend is that the number of Catholic marriages (relative to the number of baptized Catholics) has declined sharply over the last twenty years. This is true not only in this Archdiocese but in many other places as well. There are many reasons for this. Some couples do not have a Catholic wedding because one of them was previously married and they do not want to go through the sometimes lengthy process of seeking to have their previous marriage annulled. But that is nothing new. Having a second marriage in a Catholic Church has always presented challenges. More to the point is that many young adults do not have as strong a tie with the Church as did previous generations, making a sacramental celebration is not as important. In the past, young people were strongly encouraged to marry within their faith tradition. So, a church wedding meant a Catholic wedding. Now, couples coming from different faith traditions will often choose to “split the difference” and have a non-denominational service. My cousin in Memphis runs a small reception hall with an adjacent wedding chapel. She has an arrangement with an officiant from “Ministers in a Minute” who comes in regularly to conduct a brief generic wedding service prior to the reception. Of our 82 weddings, 24 were inter-religious weddings or marriages in which one party had no religion.
One very practical reason for the decline in Catholic weddings is that in the past, people usually married when they were younger, and generally were still living at home. They would naturally choose to marry in the parish church which they attended all their lives. Now those who seek to marry have often been living away from home for years and frequently live in a different city from where they were raised. Although they may attend Mass near where they live, they may have no formal affiliation with any Catholic Church. Sometimes they then run into “residency requirements”: the nearby church can only accommodate the weddings of registered parishioners. At Assumption we do have the luxury of welcoming many of these couples from out of town or out of state who want to get married, since the number of present parishioners with a long family affiliation with Assumption is very small.
While speaking of comings and goings, one thing I cannot say too often is how much I appreciate those who have so willingly (and even cheerfully) transitioned to our new parking arrangement with Mart Parc. There has not been a drop in attendance since the parking lot closed two months ago; and at some Masses there have actually been more people in church on average than there were in previous months. However, this may be due to the higher number of visitors that we have during the summer and the new hotels that have opened around us. Thanks to our Assumption Ambassadors who make frequent visits to area hotels, our visibility within the hospitality industry has grown. The collection, however, presents a different picture. For the last four weeks of May and all of June, the weekly collection is about 5% lower than it was during the comparable time period in 2015. For the first time in the ten years I have been here, the total Sunday collection for the fiscal year is slightly less than it was the previous year. This suggests that a number of our regular parishioners have indeed chosen to go to Mass elsewhere. Having visitors is great, but they tend not to be as financially invested in our church as regulars are. If you bump in to somebody you have not seen in church for a while, invite them to come home!