Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's Christmas Eve and...

...the news is slow, so here's a prediction for you.

Are you ready? (It's out of left field.) Here goes: the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist (above), on Wacker Drive in Chicago, will be sold in the not-too-distant future and reopen as a mosque, causing untold agita in the Windy City.

How on earth did I get there?

First of all, my wife and I visited the church recently as part of Open House Chicago. It's an absolutely gorgeous structure, and I even posted a picture of its organ on my Facebook page. Designed in an award-winning Modern style by noted Chicago-based architect Harry Weese, the church was completed in 1968.

If I remember correctly, by 1968 the church's membership had already peaked. And now it's in decline. (Ask yourself: When was the last time you met a Christian Scientist? The only one I can think of is Henry Paulson, the former Treasury secretary -- and I've never met him.) According to Wikipedia (my emphasis):

A census at the height of the religion's popularity in 1936 counted c. 268,915 Christian Scientists in the United States (2,098 per million). The movement has been in decline since then. The church has sold buildings to free up funds. It closed 23 of its churches in Los Angeles between 1960 and 1995. In 2004 it sold the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Manhattan, to the Crenshaw Christian Center for $14 million. (The building was sold again in 2014 to be converted into condominiums.)
There were an estimated 106,000 Scientists in the United States in 1990 (427 per million), according to Rodney Stark. In 2009 the church said that for the first time more new members had been admitted from Africa than from the United States, although it offered no numbers.
The Manual of the Mother Church prohibits the church from publishing membership figures, but it does provide the names of Christian Science practitioners, Scientists trained to offer Christian Science prayer on behalf of others. In 1941 there were 11,200 practitioners in the United States, against 965 in 2015 (1,249 worldwide). Stark writes that clusters of practitioners listed in the Christian Science Journal in 1998 were living in the same retirement communities.

Okay, so can we all agree this is a denomination in decline? And that maybe -- just maybe -- its few remaining members will be forced may want to sell the building on Wacker Drive? Call it a hunch.

So, how do I get to the second part of my prediction? Let's see: which religion is actually growing in America? Ding! Ding! Ding! You've got it -- Islam. I think it's arguable, but this website claims that it's the fastest growing religion in America:

There are now as many as 7 million Muslims in the United States, half of them American-born. In recent years, Americans of African, European, Southeast Asian, Latin American and American Indian descent have left their parents' spiritual paths to follow Islam, a religion that includes more than 1 billion believers from nearly every country.

I've also read that the "Nones" and the Mormons are the fastest growing religious groups in America, but the point remains: while the vast majority of denominations in the U. S. are in decline, Islam is growing.

Now, I'm not one of those who find this necessarily alarming; I'm just pointing out that if you owned a church that was a marquee property in a high-profile location in downtown Chicago, don't look for the Catholics or the Southern Baptists to bail you out. (Although you might actually find a non-denominational Christian mega-church, I suppose.) But I'm going to predict that just like the "Ground Zero Mosque" in New York, someone will purchase this property in the hope of converting it into an Islamic Community Center.

And the town will go nuts. It will be the biggest controversy to hit Chicago since . . . I don't know when. How will it all get resolved? I have no idea -- that's not part of my prediction.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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