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Concern for a church Congregation's move from decayed site spurs worry for another sacred structure

Concern for a church Congregation's move from decayed site spurs worry for another sacred structure

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If it is not a sin that has befallen Sacred Heart Church, it is something very much like that.

The church, between Emslie and Watson streets, is a shell of its former self. Awaiting the wrecker's ball, the church is vacant and deteriorating, a victim of a poor economy and perhaps of poor stewardship.

Pinpointing blame for the ruination of Sacred Heart is tricky. Was it because the congregation and its pastor, Elder Ronald Kirk, were indifferent to the building, allowing City Housing Court violations to pile up? Was it because the small congregation simply couldn't manage the expense of maintaining it? Was it because the building was already in rough shape when Witness Cathedral of Faith took it over more than 20 years ago?

It matters because the congregation was forced out of the now-decrepit building and has moved to another vacant church, St. John the Baptist, a city landmark on Hertel Avenue. It is in pristine condition and some people fear for its safety.

To be sure, taking on the responsibility of a vacant church isn't like buying a bungalow on a lake. The complexities are magnified, especially when the building is as old as St. John the Baptist, constructed almost 90 years ago. Kirk and his congregants will have to take special care to ensure that this well-loved building remains sound.

This is a problem that could repeat itself over the coming years. The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo merged or closed dozens of churches last year as it contended with shifting populations, declining city parish membership and a weak regional economy. Western New York is home to many vacant churches that will fall into disrepair if they are not rescued by purchasers who are able and willing to care for them.

Those buyers don't come along every day, which has to cause an observer to consider the question Kirk recently asked of a News reporter. If his congregation didn't buy St. John the Baptist, who would? "Would you rather nobody try to do anything and let them deteriorate?" he asks.

Plainly not. It's better for St. John to be occupied and put to use than to see it stand vacant and crumbling as the years peel by. But we hope the congregation of Witness Cathedral of Faith is well focused on the obligation it has assumed and that, 20 years from now, St. John will be a vibrant, integral part of the community. We've seen enough sinning around here.

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