The church is at a critical point.
If you are in a church (or even if you aren’t) you may have heard the church “woes” – there aren’t enough members, there aren’t enough people to do things, we don’t have enough money, the denomination is dying.
Even last night as we voted on co-moderators the issue of the future of the church was brought up in questions. One person even asked about the “spiritual not religious” crowd.
These are all legitimate concerns, and many churches are asking this question. I think on some level the PCUSA is asking these questions, too. The last General Assembly even put together “The Way Forward Commission” to help think logistically about the future of the church, as well as the “2020 Vision Team.” I’m sure you will hear more on this later, but for now, I’ll leave it as is, considering I’m still soaking all the information, as well.
This is not just a PCUSA issue, this is not just a small church issue. Many denominations and churches are facing something similar. So far, no one has “the answer.” (If you do, leave the comment below!)
I could write a really long post about “the future of the church” – which, really, would be my opinion and based on speculation. I could talk about the younger generations wanting to be involved in action and mission but not belonging to an institution. I could talk about how buildings and fear often hold us back.
Instead, I want to share with you a congregation who did something different.
First, let me back up. I woke up this morning with a headache. It actually had carried over from the night before, and so I woke up telling myself I wasn’t going to church. It was much easier to stay in bed! There are not too many Sundays where I have that luxury. Parishioners reading this, I feel your pain of having to decide if I go to church, or stay in bed! Some days that is easier, right?
Instead, I stood up, moved around, and took some Tylenol. A couple hours later, I was feeling better and found myself at First Presbyterian in University City. (I feel I need to add a disclaimer here – my headache was gone. This is no judgment if you didn’t go to church this morning – sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do – personally, I needed to wake myself up and go).
After parking my car I was immediately greeted by a stranger walking in the same direction. She had been a member there for two years. Her kindness did not end at the door – she sat with me through the service and gave me all the details of the church.
First Pres is a More Light congregation, just like the congregation I serve. Here’s More Light’s statement, if you’re not familiar with them:
Following the risen Christ, and seeking to make the Church a true community of hospitality, the mission of More Light Presbyterians is to work for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and in society. (For more info, go to www.mlp.org)
The service was welcoming, dynamic, inclusive, and challenged us to address injustice in the world. Worship was wonderful but I really want to focus on the church itself.
The members of this church are strong leaders. They are incredibly active, including preaching for seven weeks out of the summer while their part-time pastor is away. There is strong leadership in this church. While numbers do not make a church, I think it is interesting to note that their membership has gone from 70 to over 120 in recent years.
The picture above is of their sanctuary. They recently removed the pews and flooring and created a more versatile space. The floor has a prayer space on it. The pews on the edges are moveable, and the chairs in the middle can also be removed. The woman who sat next to me informed me that they had a Maundy Thursday meal in the space, a yoga class had been using the space, and when they have coffee hour following worship they move the chairs and use the space. Also, in the far back on the right hand side (you can see part of it at the bottom right of the picture) there is a small table for kids to have a “prayground.” Kids are welcome in worship and can be present and participate as they feel moved.
Are these building changes the reason membership increased? I don’t know – but I’m going to take a guess that it wasn’t the building, but perhaps a change in frame of mind – imagining what church looks like as the world changes. We have to begin re-visioning what church looks like and be open to the Spirit.
Today I was also introduced to “Lego Prayer” where we wrote certain words on our Legos and then built them together. (Look forward to this, church members – it is coming to a worship service near you!). My group tried to be creative and do something new, and stacked the blocks differently – but they fell apart. People were frustrated that it wouldn’t go as planned. “Sometimes our pieces don’t always fit together the way we want them to,” I found myself saying. Too often I think we are trying to fit circle pegs into square holes. It just doesn’t work. This might be a lesson I’ve been learning for the past six months or so.
This evening we began committee meetings. I serve on Mid-Councils committee which deals with presbytery and synod overtures. As commissioners begin their work in committees, I pray that we begin to feel the movement of the Spirit, and recognize that sometimes the pieces don’t fit the way we want them to, but that the Spirit does hold the answer, if we but listen.