The church needs you today
Today’s column is for Christians in the area who have been thinking about going to church somewhere but have not yet done so – those who have mostly opted for something else on Sundays. I would like to give you sufficient reason to go, soon, and wherever, to church. So hang in there; hopefully this won’t hurt too much or be some kind of guilt trip.In essence, “the Christian church,” when used as a generic term, is doing just fine. This is the body of believers, continuous with history, who followed Jesus around and whom, at his ascension, he charged with carrying forth his mission in the world. All who have ever sought to carry this light and spread it around, in conjunction with one another and with him, are members of this church. This church is necessarily organic, living, and has no need of regular organization or administration, because it is ranked around a force that compels individuals from their hearts forward. You couldn’t administer this if you tried, though many have attempted (unsuccessfully) to both own and coerce it.
Where you find it, this particular definition of church, as I say, is doing fine and always will because of the timeless truth in which it traffics, and because of the ultimate reality to which it points.There is, however, another, more specific set of churches that rightly understand themselves to be a subset of the larger idea. These are called denominations – Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, and so on. (Even those who call themselves “nondenominational” tend to fall into their own grouping and to exhibit common characteristics.) And it is within the “vast middle,” or “mainline” of these denominations, that a crisis has arisen. This crisis has several sophisticated facets that all point to one undeniable reality: a plummeting membership due to rapidly shifting cultural patterns. There are some who would claim that such drops in membership are about good people leaving in disgust over a perception that their churches are departing from the “true faith.” For some that may be the case, but in the long term (at least for those of us hanging in there) I don’t think that argument ultimately holds a lot of water.The fact is that the world has radically changed: it has gotten smaller through quantum leaps in technology; people’s lives and schedules are packed full of competing obligations; the reality and reach of consumerism have turned church into a commodity to be drawn on at one’s own convenience. In effect, the marketplace of spirituality and the quest for truth looks a lot like a smorgasbord, or buffet of possibilities. So much for eating the same thing every week.
I for one certainly don’t dispute the need to keep evolving – to keep the central and essential messages moving forward while recognizing that the outward forms can be more temporary. That’s just the way it is.My beef is with the death of something raw and rare and real and radically relevant; something that regularly offers a means of better comprehending and directly experiencing transcendence. If that connection is lost by my generation, then we’ll have visited a terrible sin on our brothers and sisters in future times.If it were as simple as separating the church of Jesus from the institutional church, then we would have no need of institutions – buildings, committees, doctrines, documents, coffee machines, and so on. Yet it is not so simple because this institutional church, for all its flaws, still is often the means by which the central truths are disseminated and understood. They are necessary containers and conveyers of truth; but some of them may not be around in another 20 years (or even far less) if people don’t start really tending to them.
So this is quite simple, and it all comes down to you. If you have left a church home in pursuit of your own interests and agendas, just consider what might be at stake in your choice. If you have been on the sidelines and looking to start something, choose now, before you no longer have a choice. If you’re “Easter and Christmas,” consider the implications of such a choice. And if you’re doing the best you can with what you have in the church you call home, bravo for your choice.The Rev. Torey Lightcap is priest-in-charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glenwood Springs (www.saint-barnabas.info). Torey and his wife have two children and live in New Castle.
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