Tuesday, May 25

Thinking about churches

There was an article today at CNN which discussed, in brief, the decline in church numbers and possible causes. In the last 20 years, the number of 'non-believers' (atheists, agnostics and people who self-identify as 'no religion') has almost doubled and the number of people self-identifying as some form of non-denominational Christian has tripled in that time frame. Further, the size of 'non-traditional' religions (such as wicca, native american beliefs, spiritualism) has increased by 25 times! In short and brief, the 'traditional' religions are losing ground and have been for quite a while.

There are many people more learned and experienced than I who have been asking how and why this is happening for a very long time. It was a concern in the mid-1980's when I was deacon and it's even more valid now. I believe that I may have an answer, though it's not one that is popular. What I am hearing is that, on the whole, the message of the Church does not resonate with people today. Platitudes on moral rectitude and exhortations of required behaviour are of little help to people facing a world which is seeming far more complex than the halcyon 19th century world these well-meaning folk describe. In truth, a lot of it sounds like someone's great-grandfather telling you how better things were before electricity and otto-mo-biles, when people knew their place. Further (and more disturbing) is that the message of the Church is at odds with the message of it's founder.

The central message of Christ is one of love and forgiveness, of inclusiveness and hope. These are eternal messages. Moral standards change over time, as do attitudes to race, gender, the priesthood, marriage and a laundry list of items which have divided the church in the past and in the present. What defines a church is not those standards and attitudes, nor a building or an infrastructure of clergy. A church is a community of people who believe together, worship together and help each other. To paraphrase the old child's rhyme:

There is no church where there's a steeple,
look in your church, it's made up of people.

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