Transcending, transforming places of faith

Posted 11/23/23

“I love that church. Too bad, it doesn’t look like it’s being used anymore.”

As we were driving West Shore Road, I knew immediately what Carol was talking about; one of …

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Transcending, transforming places of faith


“I love that church. Too bad, it doesn’t look like it’s being used anymore.”

As we were driving West Shore Road, I knew immediately what Carol was talking about; one of Warwick’s beautiful churches that for decades was Shawomet Baptist and most recently, according to the sign, is now called the Narragansett Bay Baptist Church.

Shawomet Baptist was an active congregation. For years they sponsored the Easter sunrise services at Warwick Light and served up one of the area’s best May breakfasts complete with Johnnie Cakes and syrup. The late Clyde Bennett, former superintendent of schools was a parishioner and he was sure to see I got an invite.

It appears the church has gone silent, although from its appearance it’s being maintained and perhaps used. This is hardly a unique situation. Warwick has seen a number of churches close in recent years. In some instances they have reopened with a different denomination as the case with St. William in Norwood that the Diocese of Providence sold and is now the SouthPointe Christian Church. St. Francis Church and School on Jefferson Boulevard were bought earlier this year by Chesterton Academy that is now operating a high school at the location.

The future of St. Benedict Church and school, now that its congregation has melded with St. Kevin remains uncertain. And while the diocese sold St. Catherine in Apponaug, its owner has said he plans to keep the church but hasn’t defined how it will be used.

Apart from Carol mentioning the former Shawomet Baptist, the memorial service for the Rev. William Lover, pastor of Woodbury Union Church from 1972 to 1999 and the efforts of local organizations got me wondering why we are more separated now even though technologically we’ve never been so connected. At Bill’s memorial service, I saw many of the same people I remembered from years past. I talked with the pastor Rev. Deborah Packard, who told me the church has about 80 parishioners. The story of a decline in membership with fewer young people joining is the same with service organizations such as the Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions Clubs.

Based on what I found on the Internet, 4,500 Protestant churches closed in 2019 in the United States. During the same year, however, 3,000 churches opened. The pandemic, according to an article from The Guardian, may have accelerated the decline but, “there is a broader, long-running trend of people moving away from religion.”

Having covered the consolidation of Roman Catholic parishes, I searched for some data on the numbers of Rhode Island Catholic churches that have closed. What I found, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, between 42% and 44% of Rhode Islanders self-identified as Catholic, making it the most Catholic state in the country. I didn’t find numbers on closures.

As we drove by the church on West Shore Road, I realized its mere presence, albeit not what it once was, is a statement about community. It says this is a place where people believed and came together to help one another and do good things.

While brick and mortar provide shelter and a place to gather, churches are people. As we are seeing and I believe has always been true, change is inevitable. Such transition is mourned by some who remember what it used to be.  Others see roots and a place to grow. To them faith, hope and love are everlasting.

side up, faith, church


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