Changing religious landscape: Church consolidation in Connecticut

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — The religious landscape is changing across the country and in Connecticut. One Lutheran church in Waterbury knows all about it. Especially Pastor Kathy Read.

“What we’re doing is what made sense for us and for First Lutheran,” said Pastor Read. “Come together and find strength in numbers.”

This is a story about two churches: Zion Lutheran and First Lutheran. Back in 2014 First Lutheran was faced with a difficult situation when members began to dwindle. The money was running out as well, which made it difficult to keep everything moving forward.

“We put together a task force at that time to either stay at the facility, move some place or simply dissolve,” said Richard Bunde, a member of First Lutheran and the coordinator of the transition task force.

In the end, the decision was to move. That’s when Zion Lutheran opened its doors. Both churches began sharing space at Zion, separately at first. Then the decision was made to consolidate. Basically the two would become one. That involved a great deal of paperwork and approval from the New England Synod, which is the governing body of the church. Consolidating churches is no easy task. Members of both Lutheran churches say there were a number of growing pains.

“Some of that needed massaging, tweaking, whatever, because people have different styles and even with two churches we have different styles of how we do worship,” said Pastor Read.

That took some getting used to. Some embraced it, others didn’t like the idea. Blanche Feero was originally a member of Zion Lutheran. She, like many others, had her doubts at first.

“It started out maybe a little wishy washy,” said Feero. “Neither one of us knew where we were going to go, but all of us ended up together as one church.”

A church with a new name — Cross of Christ Lutheran Church, because of the proximity to the one that sits atop Holy Land in Waterbury.

In May, the Archdiocese of Hartford announced that dozens of churches will begin to consolidate the end of June as a way to restructure. Many Catholics will be going through the same process as the Lutherans in Waterbury.

“My advice would be if you have an opportunity to find a like-minded church that’s closing, by all means reach out to them,” said Pastor Read. “You are stronger together.”

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