Russell Lupis stopped mid-jog when he saw the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser standing outside her Madison Avenue church with her “Ask Me For a Blessing” sign.
As she finished blessing someone else, Lupis stepped forward for a short conversation.
There was something on his mind — a tiff with his sister over their parents’ gravesite.
Dannhauser listened intently. Then she locked hands with Lupis, closed her eyes and prayed. She ended by making the sign of the cross on his forehead.
Lupis is not a member of Dannhauser’s Church of the Incarnation, where she serves as associate rector. He’s not even an Episcopalian. But he welcomed the chance to receive a blessing.
“She’s worth waiting for,” said Lupis, who has received her blessings before. “People like that have an even closer connection than the norm.”
Dannhauser has been offering blessings outside her church every Tuesday morning for the past three years, part of her outside-the-box ministry to passersby. She knows most of the people she blesses will never enter the 155-year-old Episcopal sanctuary in the Murray Hill neighborhood — let alone sign up for membership.
But that’s OK.
“I’m a priest of Jesus before I’m a priest of the church,” said Dannhauser, 41. “This is about sharing God’s love.”
A former lawyer who worked in bankruptcy and financial restructuring, Dannhauser understands as well as anyone the precarious financial straits many churches find themselves in. Fewer people are attending church and many of the strategies designed to attract them aren’t working.
Those missing from church pews include millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) as well as older Christians who might once have reliably attended mainline Protestant churches, but no longer feel any social or individual obligation to go.
Dannhauser’s own church is an example.
The neo-Gothic landmark was once home to a prominent and sizable congregation. It was the site of Eleanor Roosevelt’s confirmation. Years later, members built a ramp to accommodate her polio-stricken husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who arrived to attend his mother’s funeral.
Today it attracts 120 people on Sunday and relies on an endowment to meet expenses.
While Incarnation is financially healthy, surveys paint a dire picture for many mainline congregations.
From 2007 to 2014, the number of mainline Protestants decreased by roughly 5 million (from about 41 million in 2007 to 36 million in 2014), according to Pew Research. As older generations die out, younger Americans are significantly less likely to identify as mainline Protestants.
But though people may no longer attend church as much as they used to, their spiritual longings remain, and Dannhauser wants to show them what she calls “a public witness to the healing, saving grace of God.”
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Source: Religion News Service