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Religious leaders see increase in attendance this time of year

March 11, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

Several members of the Washington County religious community said this week they are not sold on "The Passion of the Christ" as a spark behind recent attendance increases, but rather believed more people come to churches every year at this time.

Still, many of the those same religious leaders said they have noticed a lot of conversation among some parishioners as a result of the Mel Gibson film.

Father Chris Moore, of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Hagerstown, and the Rev. Ken Hawes, of Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Hagerstown, said they believe any attendance increases at those churches have been because of the start of Lent, the period from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.


"We always have an increase coming to daily mass and weekend liturgies," said Moore, who has been at St. Joseph for about six years.

"The Passion," which depicts the last hours and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, opened nationally on Ash Wednesday. It was the top grossing film that week.

Father John Carter, of St. Augustine Catholic Church in Williamsport and Saint James Catholic Church in Boonsboro, said attendance has not increased at those churches since the film's release. However, Carter did say he believes "The Passion" had a positive impact on many of the church members who saw it.

"I think it's helping people understand Lent more," he said.

Pastor Richard Hembrock, of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Smithsburg, said he is unsure that increased attendance last Sunday had more to do with the film than Lent.

Hembrock echoed Carter's sentiment, saying the film had a "phenomenal impact on the spiritual life" of those from Trinity who have seen it because they saw how much Christ suffered.

"I have a sense people are getting in touch with how much God loves them because what his son did," Hembrock said. "I think that's the part where people are growing."

Hawes was one of the few who reported hearing a mixed reaction to the film in recent weeks.

"Some have seen it as important to their faith. Others have seen it as a very violent film," he said. "I believe one quote I got was 'a two-hour beating movie.'"

What do you think?

Cast your vote: Has the movie - The Passion of the Christ - caused more people to attend church?

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