Wednesday April 3, 2013

DANIELLE SANZONE

The Troy Record

TROY -- The Albany-Schenectady-Troy area is in the top 10 least religious communities in the country, according to a Gallup poll which listed San Francisco, Boston, and Burlington among the other least religious metropolitan areas.

The Capital District ranked ninth on the list released Friday by the international public opinion poll company. It tied with Bremerton-Silverdale, Wash.; Madison, Wis.; and nearby Springfield, Mass.

Twenty-six percent of the local population polled said they were "very religious." This is compared with the 77 percent "very religious" residents in Provo-Orem, Utah, listed as the most religious metro area in the poll.

The figures did not come as a big surprise to religious leaders, especially with the different culture seen in the Northeast than in many communities in the south and Bible Belt.

"As someone involved in a local religious institution, I’ve observed that northerners tend to be spiritual as opposed to religious," said Ilene Frank, co-president at the Berith Sholom progressive reform synagogue which has more than 150 members from the surrounding five counties. "There’s definitely been an overall decline in the number of people who use rituals in search of the divine."

While this is considered the case in the local community, Frank - who lived in Texas - said she felt like this is not the case in other parts of the country. "You wear your religion in parts of Texas," she remembered.

Gallup based its designation "very religious" on people who said "religion is an important part of their daily life and that they attend religious services every week or almost every week." For the "non-religious," this was based upon those who said "religion is not an important part of their daily life and that they seldom or never attend religious services." Gallup interviewed 244,917 Americans, age 18 and older, by telephone between Jan. 2 and Dec. 29, 2012. The polling firm surveyed people in 189 metropolitan areas, in the 50 states and in the District of Columbia. The metropolitan areas/cities were based upon the Metropolitan Statistical Areas as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, according to CNS News. "Some parishes are doing nicely," said Ken Goldfarb, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese. He cited fewer people living in urban areas throughout the country. "But these numbers are nothing new and are not a surprise."

The Missing Link Ministries’ Pastor Willie Bacote, who grew up in South Carolina, had similar memories to Frank’s experiences in Texas.

"It was taboo to do anything else but go to church on Sunday. And, on Saturday, you were getting ready for church on Sunday," he recollected from his Baptist upbringing. He noted that families in the Troy area tend to bring their children to sports events on Sunday instead of church.

Many religious or spiritual communities are using the apparent decline in the Capital District as an opportunity to listen to their parishioners and change.

Nina Nichols, a Troy councilwoman and senior pastor at Christ Church downtown, served as a pastor in central Texas where she said "it was odd not to be engaged in church activities." But she’s noticed that this area is more conscious and aware of the various religions practiced.

The United Methodist parish is growing, she said of the 95 usual parishioners in the flock. She attributed the increase that’s been seen at the 206-year-old church to facilitating discussions. She added that the church plans to add a new type of worship, called Taize, in the fall.

"We’re not proposing a set of beliefs," Nichols continued. "I think people do better at a place that encourages asking questions." Rich Weihing, the Albany district superintendent of the United Methodist Church, added, "These are challenging times for the traditional type of church but exciting for those open to reaching out to their parishioners."