(By Ana Ley, The Virginian-Pilot). In its midcentury heyday, Cradock Presbyterian Church in Portsmouth, Va., drew hundreds of people, packing its broad halls and lawns for Sunday worship services, Bible study groups, Easter egg hunts, craft sessions and picnics.
Officials logged 450 congregants at its peak in 1954, when a wave of World War II veterans moved into the historic Cradock neighborhood for jobs at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. For decades, the church reaped the benefits of the area’s teeming military community.
But most days now, much of the massive three-story building sits empty. About a dozen upstairs rooms haven’t been used in years, and church leaders are lucky if 40 people show up on Sundays. So after years of dwindling attendance and resources, members will gather on June 4 for a final service after almost a century in operation.
“Cradock is not the bustling shipyard support community that was started back in 1919,” said Betsy Brown, who was baptized into the church as an infant after her father took a job at the the yard. “Lots of things in our society have changed.”
It’s not just that the neighborhood is different.
Fewer Americans are attending religious services, and churches all over the country have lost members over the years. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey of 35,000 people, about 36 percent said they attended a religious service once a week. That’s down almost four percentage points from 2007.
At Cradock Presbyterian, church secretary Harriett Dooley, 79, says many longtime members have died over the years, and new ones aren’t taking their place. The church has long needed more helpers to maintain the big building and keep up with activities because the few who do it are getting tired.
“We really have no choice,” Dooley said. “Generations have changed.”