GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church gathered to "hug" their church Sunday.
They were hoping to send a message to the Diocese of Grand Rapids about a plan that would merge their parish with several others.
The parishioners at St. Mary's are concerned with the "Our Faith, Our Future" plan -- a 33-page document almost three years in the making that, in one way or another, will affect every church in the diocese.
Hundreds of St. Mary's parishioners gathered hand-in-hand Sunday and sang The Beatles' "Let It Be" as if it were a hymn.
But Bishop Walter Hurley said Sunday afternoon that given the changes happening in the diocese, it must adapt.
"Because, quite frankly, we don't have the clergy to staff these parishes. That would be one issue, and we are also faced with the changing demographics," Hurley explained to 24 Hour News 8.
The diocese intends to merge St. Mary's with other westside Grand Rapids parishes. But, Hurley said, it will not close its doors.
"There are no plans to close St. Mary's Church, nor should they expect any change in the pastoral plan because it now is in place," said Hurley.
Organizers of the rally said they are concerned that programs like their food pantry or drug counseling may be in jeopardy because of the changes happening in the diocese.
"There will be no one to do these if we are not here, and so we want to be left in a position where St. Mary's remains an independent parish," said parishioner Mike Braunschneider. "We will cluster with our partners at St. Adalvert's and St. James, but we will remain an independent parish."
Others wanted to make sure the parish they grew up in doesn't disappear.
"I was born in this parish. I would like to die in this parish. And I am not old enough to die yet, so if I live another 20 years, I would like it to be here and not in some other parish," said parishioner Sandra O'Barr.
The parish will change under the plan, but Hurley said it is important to remember that the church itself will not close.
"It's basically a roadmap for the future, but the roadmap includes maintaining the churches. So the only thing required for her to be buried there is that she be dead," he said of O'Barr.
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