Baha'i News -- Franklin County 2nd-highest in state with churchgoers

Franklin County 2nd-highest in state with churchgoers

This story was published 9/24/02

By Kristina Lord
Herald staff writer

Washington and Oregon residents may lag the nation in going to church, but people living on the eastern sides of the states are more faithful.

A national survey found about one-third of Washingtonians and less than one-third of Oregonians belong to religious denominations.

But 52 percent of Franklin County residents in Washington and 43 percent in Umatilla County in Oregon belong to religious denominations and groups that were surveyed by the Glenmary Research Center, a Tennessee-based center affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

Franklin's rate was the second-highest in the state, with Garfield County boasting Washington's most faithful at 65 percent.

The researchers surveyed 149 religious bodies including Christian denominations and Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Bahai and other groups to ask the size of their membership in 2000. They didn't survey individuals about their religious beliefs.

In Western Washington, King County had a religious affiliation rate of 37 percent, Pierce County had 30 percent and Thurston County was at 27 percent.

Pastor Dave Bechtel of Bethel Church in Richland thinks the east-west difference may be because Eastern Washington is a more conservative area. He also is a member of the Tri-City Pastors' Prayer Network, a group including pastors from about 20 Tri-City-area churches.

Bechtel's growing church is associated with conservative Baptists, the eighth-largest adherent group in the Richland, Pasco, Kennewick area. About 2,000 people attend Sunday services there.

The Rev. John O'Shea of the Parish of the Holy Spirit in Kennewick believes the Northwest's history as a recreational hub may be partly to blame for fewer going to church. "They're kind of outdoor oriented with hunting and fishing and recreation that they might see God in nature rather than in a church," he said.

Whatever the reason, Dave Anderson said he's living in the right state. The Richland man is director of the state chapter of the American Atheists.

"Due to Boeing and Microsoft and a lot of the high-tech companies, there's a different kind of mindset among a lot of the people in the Northwest. There's more trust in reason and data or evidence and less trust in things such as authority and faith," Anderson said.

Matt Gamber, a Jesuit priest and university chaplain at Gonzaga University in Spokane, thinks the low church membership statistics should be a motivating message for Christians.

"This area is so ripe for greater outreach because people aren't going to church," he said.

In the Richland, Kennewick and Pasco area, Catholics were the largest religious body, growing by 14,114 people from 1990 to 2000 to 33,724. They were followed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which grew by 1,561 people to 13,274. The United Methodist Church came in third with 5,658, despite dropping 872 members.

Catholic priests and ministers attribute the surge in membership to a growing Hispanic population and job opportunities at Hanford.

Juanita Contreras, a pastoral minister at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Pasco, said the church offers four Spanish-speaking Masses each week and has two bilingual priests.

"When we started attending in 1975, there was only about 300 (Spanish speakers). You could tell who came. There was only one Mass. Now we have three, and it's packed and it's full. You can tell it's grown," she said.

When the Rev. Thomas Champoux came to Christ the King in Richland in 1996, about 1,700 families were church members. That's grown to 2,200 families today.

"We have added some members by people who have become Catholic, but most of the growth we have seen has come from people who have moved here, who are Roman Catholic and want to establish themselves here," he said.

Here's the membership numbers for the top 15 religious groups in the Richland, Kennewick and Pasco area:

- The Catholic Church, 33,724.

- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 13,274.

- The United Methodist Church, 5,658.

- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 3,770.

- Southern Baptist Convention, 3,703.

- Assemblies of God, 3,018.

- Presbyterian Church (USA), 2,453.

- Conservative Baptist Association of America, 2,234.

- Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 1,695

- Church of the Nazarene, 1,468.

- Seventh-day Adventist Church, 1,461.

- Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, 1,309.

- General Association of Regular Baptist Church, 1,289.

- Episcopal Church, 1,005.

- Churches of Christ, 901.

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