Bishop Joseph A. Galante informed members of St. Casimir's Roman Catholic Church in Woodbine and the Church of the Resurrection in Marmora that they would remain separate with their own priests. St. Elizabeth in Middle Township will continue to be served by St. Casimir.
But Galante encouraged the churches to work together and share resources.
"It is my prayerful hope that you now will join your pastors in the work ahead of strengthening parish life," Galante said in letter distributed last weekend.
Diocese spokesman Andrew Walton said this collaboration might entail sharing positions such as youth ministers.
"Even though they're not merging at this time, they'll cluster and share resources and collaborate more closely in serving the people," he said.
The Rev. Christopher Bakey, who was the priest convener for the proposed merger, will take over at St. Casimir and St. Elizabeth in Goshen.
The Rev. Robert Gregorio will continue serving at the Church of the Resurrection through at least 2011.
The diocese considered the mergers in the face of a shrinking priesthood and declining attendance at Mass.
"Mass attendance reached a peak in the late 1950s when three-quarters of Catholics were attending Mass," Walton said. "Now it's less than 25 percent."
The smaller numbers also put financial pressure on the diocese, Walton said.
"It has impeded the parish's ability to carry out its much-needed ministries," he said.
In meetings with more than 8,000 Catholics across the diocese, Galante identified six priorities, Walton said. Among them are:
* To reach out to younger parishioners and marginalized Catholics who have left the faith;
* to provide more vocations to the priesthood;
* to engage the laity in the life of the parish.
"We found that many parishes as presently configured lacked the means to advance those pastoral priorities," Walton said.
Walton said a merger of these parishes remains a possibility in the future.
Kathy Murray, a parishioner at the Church of the Resurrection, said she was worried about how a merger would affect her family in Upper Township.
"We're very happy with the bishop's decision. First, we really like Father Bob. We didn't want him leaving," she said. "We were worried about having to go a distance to a Mass."
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