Our society is secularizing, and Christianity seems to be in long-term decline. But renewal is possible.
Upon joining the Presbyterian ministry, in the mid-1970s, I served in a town outside Richmond, Virginia. New church buildings were going up constantly. When I arrived in Manhattan in the late ’80s, however, I saw a startling sight. There on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 20th Street was a beautiful Gothic Revival brownstone built in 1844 that had once been the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion. Now it was the Limelight, an epicenter of the downtown club scene. Thousands of people a night showed up for drugs and sex and the possibility of close encounters with the famous of the cultural avant garde. It was a vivid symbol of a culture that had rejected Christianity.
I began to notice “repurposed” church buildings all over the city. They were now condominiums, gyms, art galleries, coffee shops, pubs, and clubs, a trend that continued as my time in the city went on. In 2014 the New York Archdiocese of the Catholic Church announced that it was closing dozens of empty church buildings, and hundreds of other Protestant congregations faced dwindling membership and were unable to maintain their church homes.