The landscape of Rural Churches is changing. With people moving to the big cities, the Sioux Falls Diocese is merging parishes across the eastern part of the state.
The Sioux Falls Diocese says the number of people attending rural churches is decreasing, and where people will attend church on Sundays might change. After years of research on the subject, and with concerns about the health of its priests, the Diocese decided to merge multiple parishes.
"Lots of younger people moved away to come to Sioux Falls and other places to work. Their folks and grandparents are still out there so we want to be supportive of them as best we can," Bishop Paul Swain said.
There will be 23 parishes merging across the eastern part of the state. Others will be linked, meaning multiple churches being served by one priest. Bishop Paul Swain wants to keep the travel to a minimum for the priests, as some have to travel long distances to lead services, including one that travels 90 miles.
"That's one reason why you pull together parishes so you don't have to go to so many if it seems unreasonable," Swain said.
Even with the decrease in rural churches, there isn't a decrease in numbers state-wide. With the increase in population in Sioux Falls, the Diocese is looking to add a tenth location on the south side of town. This new church is also looking to tap into the booming population of Harrisburg.
"We don't exactly have a location. We just have an area that we identified we need to be present in, and so we're going to start a new parish named after Saint John Paul the Second," Swain said.
If it's a new location in a booming community or merging in a shrinking rural community, Swain wants to make sure the changes in the Diocese is what's best for church goers.
"We sent out 38,000 letters to every registered household explaining what we're thinking of doing, asking for suggestions and then I went out and had listening sessions across the diocese and people came forward. I learned a lot and I have made some changes in what we're thinking about as a result of them informing me of things I didn't know about," Swain said.
The changes will start being implemented on July 1, but it’ll vary based on location.
To see what churches are merging click here to see the Diocese's Bishop Bulletin. The map is located on page 13.