Utica's Nandamala Buddhist temple in Utica with monk Ko Salla

Associate Professor of Religious Studies S. Brent Plate’s letter written in response to The Atlantic’s America’s Epidemic of Empty Churches outlined the “surprising reuses” of old Christian churches in Utica. His Nov. 28 letter heading As Congregations Dwindle, Churches Sit Empty. What Comes Next? detailed how these buildings “are being transformed into mosques and temples to be used by new refugee and immigrant communities.”

Atlantic writer Jonathan Merritt wrote, “Many of our nation’s churches can no longer afford to maintain their structures—6,000 to 10,000 churches die each year in America—and that number will likely grow.” Plate pointed to Utica’s Central United Methodist Church which once attracted hundreds of worshippers, but sat empty in the late ’90s. The city sold the old Methodist church to Bosnian Muslims and “they converted it into a stunning space that anchors the Muslim community of the area,” according to Plate.

“Nearby, the former St. Paul’s Episcopal Church closed its doors late in the 20th century, only to be reopened for Vietnamese Buddhists to bring their praises to the Goddess Quan Am.

“While mainline Protestant and Catholic churches are seeing declining numbers, Buddhism, Islam, and various charismatic and Protestant traditions are actually growing, and they need space to gather.” 

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