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For area’s shuttered churches, reuse can offer a second life

(Hannah Shirley) Spectators sit in the pews at Saint James Place in Great Barrington.

GREAT BARRINGTON— The numbers are in, and young people aren’t just leaving Berkshire County, they’re leaving organized religion too.

According to the Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Study, Massachusetts is now tied with Vermont as the least-religious state in the nation.

Amid dwindling congregations, many historic churches that were once the center of daily life across south county are facing an existential question: what comes next?

“Congregations, when they experience this kind of duress, the conversation focuses around whether they stay or go, whether they sell their building or do something else, is often in a situation where that duress has caused conflict or stress or pain or even trauma for many of the members,” said Joshua Castaño, the director for community engagement services for Philadelphia-based nonprofit Partners for Sacred Spaces. “Preservationists and community development folks may seem like we’re friends and like we’re here to help, but in many cases, they may seem more threatening than helpful.”

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