It seems that a new Gregorian calendar year has everyone feeling an urgent draw to make predictions about the new year. It’s not all that surprising; I usually journal about “Things I’m Looking Forward to in YYYY,” things that sometimes happen and sometimes don’t. I make this easier on myself by hedging: “I’m interested to see what happens with X,” I wonder if I will Y.” Nothing too absolute. And no resolutions. Sometimes I forget that I don’t make resolutions, like last year. I made four. And broke them all. Including the really easy one about putting lotion on my feet.
So some of the predictions I’ve been coming across are about what’s going to happen with the future of TEC/Christianity/religion. There were a couple of comment-provoking posts over at the Episcopal Café—Jim Naughton projects about everything from the Anglican Covenant to the Occupy movement. He also states that “We will understand with deeper urgency that if we don’t attract more people to the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church will wither and die,” and wonders how we might “make our churches more visible and appealing to our friends, neighbors and the strangers in our midst” (including special appeals to young adults and immigrants). “Or maybe,” he pokes, “We will just occupy ourselves in arguments. Because we are, at the moment, a church of more hat than cattle, and we didn’t get that way by accident.”
I’m uneasy about Jim’s positions here—I agree in part, but not in full. While it’s true that we shouldn’t pretend church attendance isn’t declining, pretend all’s well until we look around one day and no one’s left, I think Lindsay made a good point that we need to be focusing on values before programming.
I also recently reread this bit from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season: “The church is not immune from the bigger-is-better heresy. One woman told of going to a meeting where only a handful of people turned out, and these faithful few were scolded by the visiting preacher for the sparseness of the congregation. And she said indignantly, ‘Our Lord said feed my sheep, not count them!’ I often feel that I’m being counted, rather than fed, and so I am hungry.”
Yeah, there are practical issues. I want TEC to continue and thrive as much as the next person, I’m just not sure I want to be part of a church that grows because it prioritized awesome marketing instead of the awesome Gospel message. It’s a tough balance.
The other Episcopal Café post ponders “what’s up for grabs” in TEC renewal—Should celebration of the Eucharist be normative for Sunday worship? Do we need a paid clergy class? Do they really need a seminary degree? There are a variety of opinions on this. Bill Stringfellow gets quoted in the comments section.
One argument I can totally get behind is IT’s on Friends of Jake. IT suggests we should talk more about why we go to church—IT does it, and IT’s an atheist—so why don’t we? Most people don’t come to church if they aren’t invited.
CNN’s Belief Blog offers “15 faith-based predictions for 2012.” #6, #7, and #15 deal particularly with young Christians/Millennials, predicting continued departure from socially conservative religious traditions, an increasing generational divide, and new viewpoints on the Israeli Palestinian conflict—“ Is there a way for the Church to be pro-Israel, pro-Palestine and pro-peace?”
And rather than predictions, the Rev. Jeanne Finan offers “Ten things we can do if we really want to change the church” at Remember Your Baptism. They’re funny, smart, and thought-provoking—suggestions like “Wear the hat and heart of a visitor,” “Do the right thing, not the ‘cheap’ thing,” and “Don’t attend conferences that have only male speakers (or a single token female) or only white people on their agenda. Look at most homiletics conferences. Wow! Is Barbara Brown Taylor the only woman who has found her preaching voice?” If you only have time to explore one of the posts I’ve linked to, I recommend this one.
How about you? Anybody out there want to add their voice to these predictions? Agree or disagree with those offered? Contribute some of your own?