During this holiday season of hard times, not even houses of God have been spared. Some lenders believe more churches than ever have fallen behind on loans or defaulted this year. Some churches, and at least one company that specialized in church lending, have filed for bankruptcy. Church giving is down as much as 15% in some places, pastors and lenders report.
An article in today’s Wall Street Journal highlights the financial pressures being faced by many churches across America. From my perspective, there’s two implications for Sikhs here, one a threat and the other an opportunity.
“There have been too many churches with a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude,” says N. Michael Tangen, executive vice president at American Investors Group Inc., a church lender in Minnetonka, Minn. “They had glory in their eyes that wasn’t backed up with adequate business plans and cash flow.”
The threat comes in areas where there are more gurdwaras than the community can support. Most cities across North America have multiple gurdwaras not because of market analysis and strategic planning, but usually because a particular group doesn’t like the results of a gurdwara election and choose to take their ball and bat (or their degh and tegh) elsewhere. This stubbornness often results in small gurdwaras that do not have the critical mass of regular attenddees required to have a thriving sangat. Yes, all you need is a Sikh and their Guru to have a sangat, but you really do have to question gurdwaras that have only four people in the diwaan, namely the three ragis and the sevaadar attending to Guru Granth Sahib.
This also begs the question of whether non-historical gurdwaras in the Diaspora have a natural lifecycle. If the Sikhs have all moved out of a downtown area to the suburbs, does it make sense to still keep the original Gurdwara running or allocate the resources to where they’re better needed? Its probably my own ignorance, but I don’t know of any gurdwaras in the West that have been deliberately closed down for good reason.
On the flip side, perhaps this is also an opportunity for Sikhs. In communities where the Sikh population is rapidly growing, a pre-existing house of worship in residential/commercial area seems a whole lot better than the abandoned industrial warehouse which are certainly the norm in Canada.
The financial problems are crimping a church building boom that began in the 1990s, when megachurches multiplied, turning many houses of worship into suburban social centers complete with bookstores, gyms and coffee bars.
Many Sikh youth lament the need for gurdwaras to evolve beyond just houses of worship to become more like community centers that serve the spiritual and social needs of the Sikh community. Perhaps this may be just our chance to buy one fully furnished complete with an expresso bar for cha and jalebis.