Friday, 8 November 2013

It's the end of the Church as we know it .... and I feel fine

We had what was billed as a "Town Hall Meeting" at my church ( St. Boniface Episcopal, Siesta Key, FL) yesterday afternoon Nov 7th 2013. Some 240 or so parishioners were in attendance.

It was sponsored and moderated by the good Episcopal Bishop of South West Florida, the Rt. Revd. Dabney Smith, in order to address some "real, or perceived, or manufactured" crisis in the parish (the details do not matter).

The Bishop was in top form and he enabled a forum in which parishioners could speak about their joys and fears in an open and honest manner, without fear, and with courage.

One wise and perspicacious parishioner addressed us with his usual wisdom and candor.

He ended his contribution by saying that he was fifty five years old, and then by asking all those attendees who were younger than he to raise their hands.

My guess is that some fifteen hands were raised - maybe twenty. Whichever way you measure it the "young people"  (those under fifty five) were far fewer than 10% of the regular congregation.

Therein lies the truth and the rub. The  churches in the U.S.A  (of any and all stripes) are in numerical decline. ( We are catching up on Europe).

For a long time congregations in retirement areas - Florida, Alabama, the Carolinas, Arizona and the like have flourished as the folks of my Church attending generation (say 1944 - 1954)  have retired. We are those for whom Church attendance was normal and we gladly created or attended parishes in our retirement communities. We believed that this was a "natural form" of Church Growth. 

That "natural form" no longer exists. The current and next generations of retirees are those who opted out of Church when they were confirmed (or much earlier).

The "crisis" at St. Boniface Church is perceived  as being matter of poor leadership.

"Stuff and nonsense!"  we are in fact living through a demographical change.

It is indeed "the end of the Church as we know it".

"and I feel fine!"

I believe that from this decline and death of normal and institutional  Christianity, new and more intentional forms of Christian faith and community will emerge.

They will be a Christianity in which the call of Jesus to serve   will trump the call of the culture to build bigger and "better" congregations.

That Church will be one which is epitomised  in the words of a 20th Century hymn writer, the late Fred Pratt Green (a U.K. Methodist minister)
The church of Christ in every age,
beset by change but Spirit-led,
must claim and test its heritage
and keep on rising from the dead.

Across the world, across the street,
the victims of injustice cry
for shelter and for bread to eat,
and never live until they die.

The let the servant church arise,
a caring church that longs to be
a partner in Christ's sacrifice,
and clothed in Christ's humanity.

For he alone, whose blood was shed,
can cure the fever in our blood,
and teach us how to share our bread
and feed the starving multitude.

We have no mission but to serve
in full obedience to our Lord:
to care for all, without reserve,
and spread his liberating word.

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