Southwest Pennsylvania's Mon Valley was once a land of great prosperity, an industrial powerhouse fueled by the many mills and factories that lined the banks of the Monongahela River. Families flocked there to meet the demand for labor. Towns were bustling with shoppers and passers-by. Opportunity was abundant. And churches, seemingly one on every corner, were nearly bursting at the seams, filled with worshippers Sunday after Sunday, vibrant centers of community.
Times have changed, though. Industrial sites lay bare. Storefronts are vacant. Populations have dwindled. Many of the region's churches have closed their doors, and those that remain share a difficult reality: declining attendance, aging members, and unsustainable finances.
But might we create a different reality? This is what Bishop McConnell has asked the clergy and laity of our Mon Valley parishes to consider.
The Mon Valley Mission kicked off at St. Stephen's (McKeesport) on May 23, with representatives from St. Stephen's, St. John's (Donora), Church of the Advent (Jeanette), St. Paul's (Monongahela), and All Souls (North Versailles) gathering for a day of prayer, study, planning, and fellowship. They were joined by Bishop McConnell, Canon for Formation Jay Geisler, and Canon for Mission Kimberly Karashin, as well as others from across the diocese wishing to contribute to and learn from this collaborative effort. A second meeting was held at St. John's on July 23, with representatives from St. Matthew's (Homestead) and the Mid Mon Valley Lutheran Parish also joining in the conversation.
Though membership and money are real concerns for our Mon Valley parishes, they are symptomatic of larger issues plaguing these communities, including unemployment, addiction, violence, and a pervading sense of hopelessness. The Mon Valley Mission seeks to address these issues by reaching out to neighbors, listening to their needs, and engaging them in the development and delivery of substantive, long-term solutions. Participants are encouraged to break down the barriers that have traditionally hindered such work, whether racial, cultural, socio-economic, geographic, denominational, religious/secular, etc. While it's clear there are no quick fixes, groundwork is already being laid for some very exciting – and potentially very impactful – initiatives.
Please keep our Mon Valley missioners in your prayers as they continue to discern their role in fulfilling God's plan for the region.