Friday, May 30, 2008

Is a battle brewing in Lakewood?

For most of Lakewood, there is no indications that a simmering battle may soon appear in the daily conversations of its citizens. This battle although will not directly affect most Lakewood residents, but, could have long range affect on the economics of the city.

What is the battle that I speak of?

Its called clustering.

The Catholic Diocese has been planning to consolidate its parishes to help in the overall financial health of the church. This Diocese is not alone, this consolidation is taking place all over the country, some areas are much further along and others are just beginning the process.

The idea of clustering is to bring together parishes in a "regional" setting and bring about changes in ministering to the members of its parishes and schools. The initial point was to help the parishes formulate a plan to consolidate some functions of the church and to alleviate the stress on facilities caused by the declining and aging numbers of the Priests and Nuns who tend to the flock.

In Lakewood, we saw this clustering or consolidation of services with the opening of the Lakewood Catholic Academy. This school is the combination of the schools from the parishes of St. James on Detroit, St. Luke's on Clifton and St. Clements on Madison.

That consolidation saved the three individual parish schools from closing all together and perhaps helping the parishes remain vibrant within the city. Since that school is still new it is too early to tell if it will remain the success story of the city.

Now the call is for consolidation on a much larger scale. The Consolidation and or closure of Churches in Lakewood.

The Lakewood and Cleveland cluster or as its being referred within certain circles, the Clevelake Cluster. This cluster consists of the three parishes already named (James, Luke and Clements) the other members of the cluster are St. Cyril & Methodious, St. Hedwig (both on Madison) and St. Rose of Lima (on Detroit in Cleveland).

There is so far only one sure closing of parishes and that is because it can not withstand the financial strain of its dwindling numbers of parishioners.

So that means there are questions as to what happens to the remaining five parishes.

There are three options:

1) Remain Open

2) Consolidate

3) Close

Individually, the parishes can not stand on there own financially for much longer, the Diocese is looking for most parishes to repay any outstanding assessments and continue to pay all current assessments. All the parishes must support the grade schools that are connected on a yearly basis, plus maintain the physical plants of their own buildings all with the knowledge that the number of parishioners and the finances that they provide are dwindling.

To give some sense of the financial state of the diocese, there are 227 parishes and about 49% of them operate in the red or they do not take in enough money each year to cover their expenses.

It is also known that for any debt that a closed parish has must transfer to the merged parishes or back to the diocese and to pay off the debt there may be the need to sell the property.
Here is another thought, that if a parish closes the tax exempt status will at some point be lifted adding yet another debt burden to the merged parishes or back to the diocese.

For some, the addition of new property to the tax roles would be a good thing, especially if that property could create not only property taxes, but also income tax.

The alternative is that with a closing of parish, it create a loss of community and quite possibly the loss of residents to the city.

In just of few months, some of those questions will be answered.

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