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How one downtown church is reaching out to millennials

St. Paul's Episocpal Church

There wasn't a large crowd at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral Sunday for the church's contemporary mass, with a band and traditional services. This is a time when it's hard to get younger people into churches and St. Paul's is reaching out to them.

"This Little Light of Mine" is probably not commonly heard in any church, especially a congregation that has been in the heart of Buffalo for two centuries. Interim Dean Will Mebane says it's part of working to attract the millennials who have flooded into the city's downtown core in recent years, a generation which is heavily unchurched.

He says there are occasional visits from neighborhood millennials, but you can't wait for them to show up. The cathedral is reaching back into the basic Christian message, rather than extensive church services, to bring them into the fold.

"We believe what Jesus commands, that we are to be involved in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, caring for people who are sick and visiting folks who are in prison and welcoming the stranger," says Mebane, "and so, all of our ministries now are centering around doing those things, which again you can't do sitting up in a building and you can't do it just only on Sunday morning."

Mebane says a key metric now for St. Paul's is the "average weekly touch." That's getting out into the neighborhood and, on Wednesdays, working with Bishop Darius Pridgen's True Bethel Baptist. Both congregations are touching those who need help or advice and not requiring them to come inside.

"What's the average weekly touch?" asks Mebane. "By that I mean, how many people, how many lives are we touching in the course of a week - and on a Wednesday, when we have the Shepherd's Closet from True Bethel, along with the Bread of Heaven truck, we are touching on some Wednesdays, hundreds, literally hundreds of people, none of whom will ever set foot in St. Paul's Cathedral."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.