Sunday Morning Church Rant

I didn’t go to church today because I couldn’t face another stripped-down summer liturgy. Bleh.  Recycled sermons, vacationing preachers, substitute organists, empty pews, last moment lectors, absent acolytes, no choir, no coffee hour. The church on vacation isn’t pretty. 

But that’s not our only problem. We have a problem of relevance. We are trying WAY too hard to find it. When church leaders chase the latest opinion polls, and change their main Sunday liturgies to meet the “market,” those who have been shaped by the liturgical traditions of the past are left to embrace the change or leave. What seems to have been left out of the rush to seek the seeker is that the Church was never more embracing or growth-filled as when it was the keeper of mystery, ritual, prayer and sacrament and served the community. (1st – 3rd Century CE)

It will be a sad, sad day when a generation hence American mainline churches are empty (like Europe) and leadership wishes we had hewed to liturgical practice, embraced social justice, and welcomed the stranger and the familiar at the same time.

Am I really all alone in my grief at the demise of the weekly Lutheran and Episcopalian Sunday liturgy — the ritual of action, listening, singing, silence, Word and Meal that has sustained me spiritually all my adult life?

Are there no clergy around me who think that the rush to reinvent the church by changing worship is getting at the problem from the wrong end? Is technology in the sanctuary really All That?

You’d think with all the gutting of worship tradition that all following Jesus ever meant was showing up for church, and that Church meant getting people in the doors on Sunday morning. I always thought living the faith was what I did with my life the rest of the time, out in the world. Worship was what pulled me back into the tradition of the mothers and fathers, helped me remember, fed me at the Table, grounded me in the mystery.

I’m sad the scramble for growth, money, resources, and relevance has meant the suburban churches in my area are always riding the wave of the Next Big Thing. I’ve been around long enough to know that there is always a next big thing.

The rush to relevance has left me cold. It’s exhausting (no wonder the church heaves a huge sigh during the summer). Think I’ll go read Morning Prayer (BCP, p. 75) and have my own church today.

Signed,

Wish You Were Here. 

So What

For all the talk in America now and forever about how spiritually diverse we are as a nation, it seems that many people have been lying to the researchers. Or just maybe have been trying to spare their mother’s feelings and no longer feel they should.

Here are the surprising statistics I found as I was thumbing through my latest The Lutheran magazine (3/2012, p. 8):

  44% told the Baylor University (Waco, TX) Religion Survey that they spend no time seeking out eternal wisdom.
   19% said it was ‘useless to search for meaning.’
   28% told LifeWay that it’s not a ‘major priority’ in my life to find my deeper purpose.

One of the most striking trends in religion statistics in recent decades is the rise of the Nones, people who checked “no religious identity” on the American Religious Identification Survey. The Nones went from 8% in 1990 to 15% in 2008. 

So, while America grows increasingly vocal on the edges of the religious landscape, there appear to be lots and lots of people, young and old, who are opting out of the conversation completely. Somehow the core issues of faith like belonging, meaning, forgiveness, renewal, love and compassion, have not been compelling or important enough to draw people toward the discussion.

So what? I’m not very excited about a secular culture. Despite all the problems that religiosity and diversity bring (and I could go on and ON about that), our life in America has been immeasurably enriched, challenged, and improved by the influence of faith on daily life. Just a few examples spring to mind, institutions and events that were driven by religious values: the establishment of colleges, the building and staffing of hospitals and nursing homes, the abolition of slavery, and the provision of food shelves, homeless ministries and chaplaincy to prisons. These are key aspects of American life may or may not ever have happened without people of faith sacrificing and organizing around the life principles of love for the neighbor, and compassion for the sick, poor and suffering.

If those of us who remain connected in some personal way to religious communities need to take anything away from these current statistics, it may be that we need to do a better job speaking, living and working out of our core principles. We may have been doing lots of stuff in the past 25 years, but it doesn’t seem to have captured the imagination of our children, our next door neighbor or the college student across the country. And why should we?  So that these disconnected might have a real chance at hearing why we think faith is central to life in the first place.

That this is not all there is. That Love created the universe. That we’re in this together. That we hurt each other, and yet we can repent, forgive, even start over. That we all belong to God. I don’t want anyone to miss out on this ‘eternal wisdom’ because it saves lives from despair and emptiness. So what? That’s what.