BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — West Virginia is long known for its deep-rooted Christian values.
Christians make up an overwhelming majority at nearly 80 percent. Catholics, however, make up about 8 percent of all people who identify as religious in West Virginia.
The divide is drastic, but this has always been the case.
When coal towns started to decline, so did other cultures and religions across the Mountain State. Catholicism took a hit, and the effects can still be felt to this day.
“You know, here in southern West Virginia, historically there were some significant Catholic communities in the mining towns,” said Pastor Leonard Smith from St. Francis De Sales Church in Beckley. “Welch for instance and various communities in McDowell County had, there were a lot of Catholics but with the decline in the mining industry, we’ve seen a downturn in that so a lot of the issue is demographics.”
Smith said that while the downturn of coal had a devastating impact on Catholicism, other forces were at play as well, such as the economy.
Going forward, Smith believes there’s hope that Catholicism will grow and flourish in West Virginia. He said Catholic churches in the area can work together to bring the message of the Gospel to those who don’t already have a home church.
“Not with the focus on other Christians, with whom we already share faith in Jesus Christ but trying to share the Gospel with people who are un-churched, the nones, I guess, those that don’t profess any kind of religious faith,” said Smith.
While Smith does not think the Catholic Church will ever fully disappear in the Mountain State, he is however fearful that history could be erased.
“That’s always a possibility, it’s a sad thing to ponder,” said Smith. “But if people don’t take their faith seriously and try to live it and try to share the gospel with others, it is possible that in one place or another, a particular Christian community could cease to exist.”
But for now, Pastor Smith told 59News he will continue to do the good work as he spreads the Gospel and the message of Catholicism.