Emerging From A Black Hole
I was just looking through some of the files that I have sitting on my computer, and came across one that a was something that a friend of mine wrote. The title of it is the same as this episode of this blog is, and I suddenly began to wonder. With the decline of people going to church (not just the Episcopal Church, but all churches,) I began to wonder what it would take to turn this around?
I remember as a child going to church with my family, and in the congregation that we were in were other families and single people. If one was a Christian, church is the place that one went to on Sunday morning, there wasn't a rule that one had to go, but it was the place that one went to. Church was the place that you met other people and grew spiritually.
Over the years until I got into my 30s, churches were not packed, but a good number of people would always be there. Then suddenly it began to drop. Now this wasn't happening just in the congregation that I was in, but in many congregations. I also noticed that most of the people who came to church were not born in the USA. I noticed more and more that the people that I would see coming into the church were born outside of the USA. I thought that this was just happening in the congregation that I was in, but when I would talk with others they would realize the same thing.
I also noticed that the Evangelic congregations were growing as a fast rate, which made me believe that they had something that we didn't have. I would watch the TV guys, and some of them would have wonderful and interesting sermons that would cause me to think, but I had a hard time with the shows because it seemed like 75% of the show was them begging for money. I would watch Jerry Falwell, and it got to the point that I new when to turn on his show so that I could hear his sermon. Now I am sure that some of you may be upset that I listened to him, but if you didn't pay attention to the “off tv show” and listened to his sermons, they were quite interesting.
With all of the scandals that happened with some of them, I noticed that the number of people who paid attention to them began to drop, and in turn so did the number of people that I would see in congregations in many denominations. It was during this time that I really began to wonder if it was time to do church in a new way? Now I had no desire to get rid of the Bible in the church, for that is the core of what going to church is about, but I began to wonder about the services that we do and if we really needed the church buildings themselves? I wondered and wondered, but couldn't quite figure out what needed to be done. I had (and still do have) my personal spiritual ways, but I knew that they aren't for a large number of people, and that some of them will never understand them, but they work for me.
I would bring up ideas that I would think were great, but I would hear again and again about how they couldn't work. I had this idea that it would be nice for several congregations to hold Bible Study together. I would hear about how each congregation did theirs differently, and that trying to get them to even consider it would be difficult. I pushed and pushed as much as I could, but it just hear excuses. It took me a while, but I realized that what would work was for each congregation to still hold there own Bible Study, but a way of merging from time to time came to mind. Wouldn't it be nice if in months that had a 5th Sunday, the Bishop of the Diocese would recommend a film that congregants of different congregations could sit and watch together at one or two of the congregations that were nor far from each other. How this would work would be that in cities like Oakland, California which has 6 congregations, on each 5th Sunday people from all 6 would go to one of the congregations and watch the film together and have a conversation afterward. Each time it would move to another congregation in a rotation. Not only would this permit congregations to keep there own Bible Study going, but would allow the people to get to know each other. I mean wouldn't it be nice to find out that the person who works in another office in the same building that you do, that you see on a daily basis worships in what is basically the same style that you do? I would bring this idea up and would hear tons of reasons why it couldn't happen.
Another idea that I felt would be really good is for the Clergy and Vestry Leaders to sit and have a meal together once every 3 or 4 months. Here would be a good way for congregations to be able to connect with each other, and talk not only about upcoming events, but problems that they encounter that could help each other with, but I would hear all kinds of excuses on why this couldn't happen.
Even though I keep hearing excuses as to why we can't do something, ideas kept coming into my head. Then I began to wonder if I was going to the wrong people and that they were and are the biggest problem. I realized that what I was doing was going to the clergy with most of these ideas. An idea came to mind, and I decided that I wasn't going to mention it to any clergy person, but that I would go to other laity themselves and seeing what would happen. I found it interesting in that people would want to do stuff together. I brought up the idea of doing Bible Study together, and explained what I had encountered. Some of them went back to their congregations and talked with their clergy person(s) and would hear all of the excuses. Some of us decided to give it a try without any involvement from the clergy. It was interesting in that we have done this for a few years, meeting once a month at somebodies place, having a meal, watching a meal and having a spiritual discussion afterward. The best part of the whole thing is that it has become a inter-religious thing now, which contains Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhist and others. Not a single one of us is ordained buy our religious affiliation, nor are we trying to convert one another, but to have a better understanding of each others beliefs.
Not to long ago, as the convention of the Episcopal Church, they came up with this idea of doing church differently. When I hear about it, I had to laugh. Another thing that is going on in the diocese that I live in is the idea of churches working and getting together in things that they are doing, which is something that I had tried to push at one time.
As I read the thing today that got me thinking about all of this, I began to wonder what was one of the big problems in the church today. The more that I thought about it, the more that I realized that the biggest problem has to do with what the church has as it's 1%. It then hit me that if we push the 1% aside and the 99% really take control of things, I think that we could actually start to come out of the Black Whole of decline that we have been in.
Oh sure some may say that we need to the 1% in order for the church to do anything, but I disagree. You see, if the 99% stop coming, Christianity will survive in a much better way. It finally hit me not to long ago that the real reason that Jesus spent his time among the downtrodden instead of the 1% is that Jesus knew that they would really get and understand his message. If Jesus had spent all of his time with the 1% I really don't feel that what he spoke would of ever gotten out to the masses. The 1% would be still dissecting the words, where as the lowest of the 99% actually go out and live into the words he brought forth.
If the church really wants to grow, I think that it is time that the 99% remind the 1% that the real leaders of our congregations is not them, but the 99%. When the 99% truly take control, then thing will change.
Change will require also that we do church differently. In some cases it will require that some of the building are sold, and that people be willing to open their homes to small groups of people to work together without going into a church building. It will require that the people who want to claim experiences in doing stuff to step aside and let others do. It will require that we be willing to open our hearts, souls and minds to new ways. It will require that those who have the most to say to listen to those with the least to say. It will require that we sit with the youth and young adults and ask them what they want to see the church look like in 5 or 10 years, and put those ahead of what the older ones say.
Change will require that we leave the old ways as much as we love them, and join the modern world and stay with it. Change will require those who have degrees to step back and realize that they still have tons to learn from those who don't have any degree.
Change will require a lot, but if we want to emerge from the black whole that we are in, change will require things to happen that we all (including me) will not always be happy with. But most importantly Change will require that we truly open our hearts and minds into trying to live a life in the Holy Trinity.
One thing that I would like to see happen now, and it wouldn't be a hard change. I would like for each of us to say to each other as we leave, "May The Peace Of The Lord Be Always With You" instead of Goodbye.