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Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Church must die so Christianity can thrive.


Two years after his 19 year old wife died of tuberculosis, Ralph Waldo Emerson (b 1803) wrote,
"I have sometimes thought that, in order to be a good minister, it was necessary to leave the ministry. The profession is antiquated. In an altered age, we worship in the dead forms of our forefathers."
Three years after I left parochial ministry, I have to say that, more and more, I agree with Emerson.

Well, by "the ministry" I believe he means the ministry as defined (and limited by) "the church". And, by "church," I mean the institutional church - not the place that is not necessarily a church building where two or more Christians have gathered in the name of Jesus. 

I'll start, straight up, with a confession: I have always been ambivalent about the institutional church.

Of any denomination. Anywhere. 

I once cared. Very much. Don't any more. Waste of energy. Poor stewardship.

I know. On one level, that's an incredible thing for an ordained person to say. Especially one that has given so much of her life to the institutional church and worked so hard to hold the church accountable to the justice the church claims to be central to its mission.

In my own defense, however, I confess that I am passionate about Christianity in general and "making better Christians" in particular.

That doesn't necessarily mean that the institutional church will make you a Christian any more than going to a garage will make you a car (as the old joke goes). 

It's not what you think. I'm not talking about standing on a street corner like the non-denominational Evangelicals and Pentecostal or knocking door to door like the Mormons.

I'm talking about what the church sometimes calls "Christian formation" - although the term sounds pretty spiritually arrogant to me. Sort of in the same way I find "Spiritual Direction" arrogant and mildly offensive. I much prefer the term "Anamchara" or "Soul Friend".

Specifically, I think "Christian formation"  means meeting Christians where they are and helping them to deepen and strengthen their faith.

That's where my passion is. Not the institutional church. Not any more.

Here's why.  I have two confessions. And, a four part plan.

First, the US population growth  is just shy of 1% per year but church membership (a self reported number and likely over inflated) is down.  The data shows a 1.15% decline in in membership.

There is a growing concern that this is going to get worse – much worse.

The members that stay behind are also giving less.
In terms of per capita giving, the $763 contributed per person is down $17 from the previous year, according to a 2013 study for the National Council of Churches conducted by Eillen W. Lindner. That is a 2.2 percent drop.”
That is only 1.8% giving per capita (US Per capita data here) and down 2.2% from the previous year.

So, while the US population is growing, the churches have a decrease in membership and an additional loss of revenue.  A net income loss of somewhere around 3.35% (2.2% plus 1.15%).

Remember: I'm not talking about a specific denomination. I'm talking about the institutional church.

At this rate, as any freshman economics student could tell you, growth is unsustainable.

Indeed, one of my worst fears is that pledging to the church is poor stewardship. 

Here's the truth of it: I still pledge to my local church because it has an amazing number of ministries within the community. It is a mission outpost that also gathers every Sunday to pray. I wish more of the congregation were involved in the ministries in the community, but there's still a higher percentage than many churches.

That said, I don't believe it is either healthy or wise to support the institutional church - financially, emotionally or spiritually or, especially, by ordaining any more "nice" but well educated and well intentioned (Good Lord, deliver us!) people to it.

I have come to believe that the institutional church is hopelessly corrupt and beyond salvation.  I believe that it is more concerned about it's own salvation, which is why it has lost its quest for excellence and has become so comfortable with mediocrity - and why in more and more cases it can't be a vehicle of anyone else's salvation.

That is not hyperbole or exaggeration.

I think most bishops and priests are well-intentioned men and women who are in over their head - way, way over their head. Indeed, I don't know anyone who can do the job they must do in order to "save the church". So, perhaps  predictably, it's become all about marketing and gimmick which, when dressed up in a clergy collar, is supposed to pass for "prophetic".

Actually, it's pretty pathetic.

More than a few bishops were once excellent parish priests who have now have no idea how to be a bishop, because, much to their surprise, they have found that the expectations of the institutional church have more to do with being a CEO and fundraiser than being chief pastor.

Some have simply shut down and have been "phoning it in" for so long that some of they don't even know the accurate names and locations of the churches in their own dioceses (True story here). Others have become less leaders and more cheerleaders of gimmicks and slick marketing.

I think this essay, "Leadership in Anxious Times" nails it.  Frederick Schmidt's metaphor of "this old house" whose "thirty years of neglect that made it affordable," is a brief but powerful parable about the church. I especially like this of his Six Lessons:
Don't confuse creative marketing with effective mission. Nothing sidelines an institution faster than contraction and flailing that is labeled as vision and the dawning of a new era. The people who come through your doors know it instantly. Many more simply never show up, because they can smell false advertising a mile away.
Here's the thing: I don't believe Jesus wants us to save the institutional church. Indeed, I don't think He will, no matter how much we wish He would.

I believe Jesus doesn't want more churches. More buildings. More property. More churches.

That's more about empire building than building up the Realm of God.  

I believe that Jesus would like more followers.

I believe Jesus wants more people to be more authentically Christian. More people who are willing to follow their baptismal vows more nearly and dearly, and live into the answer of their baptismal prayer that they "grow to the full stature of Christ."

We don't need a "vision" or a "revision" or even another "reformation" of the church.

We need a revolution, is what.

We need to discover just how big small can be. 

We need to get "back to the future".

That's my first confession.

My second confession is that, for the past six years, I've been watching the growth and development of the Anamchara Fellowship.  While other religious organizations are shrinking, Anamchara has had a steady 15% annual growth.

Why is it that, while the institutional church continues to close more churches than it starts, this ragtag bunch of assorted Christians continues to attract new members?

Full disclosure: My beloved is the Abbess of the Anamchara Fellowship

If you visit their web page, you will find that they have no "place". No building. No monastery. No convent. No retreat center. No church. No property. No land.

Their spirituality is clearly Celtic but they are also clearly and devoutly Episcopalian and Anglican. They are male and female, priest, deacon and laity, single, partnered, married and divorced, black and white, gay and straight, cradle and convert.

And - whether they are lay or ordained - they are all entitled to wear the same "uniform".  Some do. Some don't. Some, I'm convinced, sleep in it. I'm not particularly fond of it, and, unfortunately, it invites more than its share of the unstable who really think there's "magic in the habit". Thankfully, they've got a rigorous discernment process and, despite a few mostly delightful 'peculiar' folks in their membership, they have a pretty spiritually, emotionally and theologically solid leadership. 

They meet once a year at Annual Gathering. Monthly in their geographical "priories". Twice weekly on Skype for Compline. They communicate daily on their closed Facebook page. And of course, there's the telephone and cell phone.

They empower and enable and equip each other to pursue their individual and particular vocations and missions in their own communities of faith, in their own neighborhoods, in their own homes and families.

Did I mention that they are growing? 15% every year. Steady. Consistent. Since 2002.

I know some rectors and bishops who might be convinced to sell at least part of their soul for that rate of growth. 

So, here's my plan for evangelism. It has four parts.
First: Close more churches.

Second: Support more cathedrals.

Third: Ordain less priests, even fewer bishops, more deacons and, of them, only proven leaders who are willing to take risks for the Gospel. 

Fourth: Shape and form, empower and equip more Christians. 
Here's why:

The core essentials of Judaism are at the heart of Christianity. The early church did not focus on building places where new Christians could meet. Instead, the early church met people where they lived and breathed and moved and had their being.

The early church, like the synagogue, empowered people to worship and serve God and the people of God in their homes and communities.  People went to synagogue to study Torah and learn how to be a better person. The family was the center of faith. The 'neighborhood' was the community of faith.

Education, religious and secular, was - and is - a high priority.

This is true, even today. 

The synagogue was (and remains) the place for the celebration of High Holy Days and the major events in the life of the community - the weddings and funerals and the Bar Mitzvahs - but the emphasis was (and remains) on educating, empowering and enabling the people of God.

Their liturgies are all about remembering and re-enacting the stories of their faith so that they might live their faith more fully in their own lives where they find themselves.

The Rabbis continue to be the teachers.  The business of running the congregation is left to the President of the congregation. But the emphasis is on an educated laity and the empowerment of families to worship God in their homes and honor God in their lives.

I do believe this model is the work that the church - which claims to be the incarnation of the gloriously resurrected body of Rabbi Jesus - needs to be about.

It's what we're not doing. 

I believe it's a big part of why the church is dying.

Which is why I think we need to close more churches and support more Cathedrals.

Cathedrals, like synagogues, need to be places of education and empowerment.  Clergy - priests and deacons - as well as laity with specific charisms for education, pastoral care, evangelism, catechesis, liturgics, preaching, formation, pastoral counseling, social justice activism, finance, fundraising, administration, communication, etc. - ought to be considered "canons" of the Cathedral (give them titles if you must) and work out of the Cathedral to be with and among the people of God.

The ancient role of the bishops is to be "chief pastor". Bishops are people who love Jesus so much that they call the church and the world to be in more intimate relationship with each other.

The bishop is NOT the CEO of the diocese. The "ministry of the purse" is that of the deacon.

In my plan, the church buildings in communities that can support - and only those that can support - them, will then become "mission outposts" of the diocese and cathedral. As such, they would become "home base" to the various cathedral staff - lay and ordained - who will be assigned there, on a rotating and itinerant basis, depending upon the particular needs of that particular community. 

I think churches must give the "first fruits" - a tithe, a pledge, the first 10% of their income - in service to the community. They must be able to support the workers - the diocesan and cathedral staff who come to minister in their midst.  And, I think "clergy compensation" ought to be standardized throughout the diocese, according to job description.

Instead of using "ASA" (Average Sunday Attendance) as the measure of "viability", the measure would be how the building and the staff are serving the community and the world. Rather than looking at how many people are in the pews, we would be asking of people and clergy, "How did you live out Matthew 25?" And, "How many risks have you taken for the Gospel of Jesus Christ?" And, "How many Christians are being helped to live out the Gospel in their own lives?"

One important metric for me is this: If the line items in the budget for repair and maintenance of the church buildings and grounds is larger than the line item for outreach and mission, a church is already spiritually dead and ought to be closed.

The only people we assign there - like the only people we ordain - are people who have demonstrated skills and abilities as creative servant leaders . . . . BEFORE they are ordained.

I am sick unto death of the embarrassment of riches of "nice" clergy. We have boatloads of them in The Episcopal Church. Well educated. Smart. Articulate. Kind. Deeply spiritual.

We don't seem to be raising up the kind of leadership with the qualities we need: First and foremost, those with some fire in the belly for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those with some energy who have the ability to inspire others to action.

People who love Jesus more than they do the institutional church.

This is important: Those who are clear about their own identity apart from their spouse/family/church or the identity a clergy shirt and collar will bestow upon them.

People who are: Self-starters. Self motivated. Innovative. Creative. Risk takers. Community organizers. Passionate about justice.  People who can put aside their own personal goals and ambitions and work with others for the sake of the Gospel.

People who are secure enough in themselves to raise up and train other members of the baptized without feeling threatened by their skills and abilities.  People who believe - really believe and not just give lip service to - the priesthood of all believers.

People who believe that so much that they are willing to move beyond status and respectability and permanence and security and be with people where they are: at their work sites - from factories and farms to board rooms and high rise offices - in their homes - from crowded tenements to McMansions - on the buses and subways.

People who can use the internet to the glory of God and for the edification of the Body of Christ. Jesus sent the disciples out, two by two. If Jesus were to begin His ministry today, I have no doubt that He would send out His word, two by two gigabytes.

Evangelism by sandals then. Evangelism by internet now. 

Everywhere people are, there the church should be.

Because, that's where the church is, already. The institutional church is arrogant enough to believe that the only place to meet Jesus is at their altar, with their magnificent music, listening to their profound words of wisdom from their pulpit, watching their beautifully choreographed liturgical dance steps in their beautiful sanctuary.

The people of God are literally dying for the institutional church to meet The Body of Christ where He already is - where they are.

Which is why the institutional church is dying. Because the people of God are not being fed with the bread of heaven where they are. The way Jesus did. The way Jesus sent his disciples out, two by two, to be with people. Not set up shop and expect people to come to them.

This is how Christianity will continue to grow and thrive.

It means that more and more of the institutional church must die.

The good news is that is is already dying.

The really good news is that, because of Jesus, we have the promise of resurrection. 

And, without being too obvious, there can't be a resurrection without first having a death.

I have no doubt that I've more than annoyed a few folks with this post. Indeed, I haven't done that intentionally but, you know, I hope I have.

I also have no doubt that many people will disagree with me. I never said I was right. I have only said that what we're doing is not only not working, it is not bringing more people to Jesus and not edifying the Christians we have. 

My real hope is that it provokes some serious conversation which gets us off the sense of failure because churches are closing and moves us to be excited to close more churches and be better Christians. 

I probably won't be around 30 years from now when my hope is that someone will say, "You know, years ago, Elizabeth Kaeton wrote a blog about this very thing. I just thought she was getting old and dottery. Turns out, we probably should have listened."

Or, perhaps, the women over at Dirty, Sexy Ministry have it right. Perhaps it's only that some "things" have, in their words, "lived waaay beyond their expiration date in the church" and need to die.

Bottom line: The Church (or serious parts of it) must die so Christianity can thrive.

Either way, we agree: The church is dying! And, has been since its birth on Pentecost.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Long live The Body of Christ!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

46 comments:

Albedo said...

Elizabeth,

Despite being an active member of the Episcopal Church (Scotland), I can't find it in my heart to disagree with you in any serious way. Dinosaurs are what they are - extinct- and for good reason. Also, Jesus never wanted any truck with institutions. Maybe I'm biased. No. I AM biased. I am an Anamchara Companion, and was with your beloved for the Gathering (such a lovely lady). And yet there is surely a place for "Organised Religion"... Or maybe not? Our kind of dispersed community thrives, but does it thrive only in opposition to more traditional institutions? Or would it do better if that opposition disappeared? Thanks for yournthought-provoking post...

Bill said...

Yes, what you said. :)

Katherine Johnson said...

This needs to be heard, but not just heard -- acted upon. Along with the comments in the other post over at Dirty Sexy Ministry. Thanks, Elizabeth!

Paul T. Kotas said...

PART II
Again, if memory serves, Y’shua spoke against those who would parade their “holiness” on street corners or in gatherings for others to see to see how G_dly they were. In fact, when Y’shua “prayed,” He went off alone to commune with G_d. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the RCC recently appointed a Jesuit to the papacy. A man of simple means and needs, who eschews the wealth, pomp and circumstance of the Mother Church. What a breath of fresh air! How that happened, G_d only knows! A true man of G_d who washes the feet of commoners instead of Cardinals! A pope who immediately delved into the financial dealings and ousting heads at the highest levels of the Vatican Bank whose history is notorious! More recently, the itinerary of Pope Francis’ trip to the Middle East, from visiting the Western Wall, the Jordan River, the Dome of the Rock and the security wall that surrounds the West Bank city of Bethlehem, but also the momentous invitation to Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to pray with him at the Vatican! [Admittedly, I have privately expressed my concerns for his “health” with my dear friend who is very active in her Episcopal Diocese, in light of the brevity of Pope John Paul I’s reign.] It appears to me that, inasmuch as The Church is bigger than any pope, this new pope is systematically, surgically cutting the cancers from which The Church has long suffered. Suffice to say, it seems to me that your way of thinking seems very much in line with this new pope- emphasizing ministering to the needs of the people, both spiritually and humanly. Not from thrones on high, but in person, with a human touch; emphasizing living G_d’s Will in the Judeo-Christian way and the legacy of Rabbi Y’shua Mashiach. I have an idea Pope Francis would enjoy your blog and suggest that you send it to him. Who knows what bridges could be built?

Kay & Sarah said...

Wow! Thanks!! You have so clearly articulated what I am feeling and have felt guilty about. It seems church trips up so many ministries. I was just thinking today maybe I just need to do my own thing and not worry about trying to do it through the church. After reading your blog, I still feel sad but I also feel strangely hopeful. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...
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Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Albedo - I don't think ACF is oppositional. I think it's complementary. And, yes, if the institutional church didn't exist, it would still exist. Because, I think, it's the most ancient and most authentic form of "organized religion".

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Bill. But, we've talked about this before, haven't we? LOL

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Katherine - Thank you. I don't think there's a bishop in TEC who would work this model. They'd have to give up too much power, It's jut not going to happen.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Paul - Sorry, I didn't get Part I. Thanks for your comments, But I really don't think the Pope is interested in my thoughts.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Kay &amp Sarah. Look into the Anamchara Fellowship. They are really great.

Pepper Marts said...

Elizabethdear: I've treasured your occasional presence in my life for decades; now at last I'm beginning to understand why.

This non-sermon occupies a place of honor on my hard drive and in my heart. Despite the resulting cries of horror, I wish it could be heard wherever the Church is gathered.

MadPriest said...

Do you go far enough? It seems to me that you still want to cling on to those things of the institution that are important to you such as learning and leadership (albeit in a radically different form). Anyone can destroy that which they hate and that which has hurt them. I think the real test comes when we are asked to tear down that which we truly love. For me it's the buildings themselves. I'd love to chase all the scribes, pharisees and moneychangers out of the temple and so that the rest of us can enjoy the comfort of the stones without all those silly conditions the "leaders" and learned insist on imposing upon us.

Marthe said...

Ah, dear EK, a fine vision, yet it assumes that people of faith in God (and by the way, what is this trend in not spelling out that word? Some OT throwback to not actually speaking the name of the Holy One?)actually believe that we are all valued equally by the creator, worthy of care and respect and consideration from our neighbors. But I am reminded of a remark by Justin Welby, ABC, in an early interview where he expressed the all to common "reality" that we are not all created "equal" - so many variants in genetic inheritance, opportunity, education, effort, etc. The truth as he saw it: "we" are not really all or equally deserving of love either big or little 'l'. And that is not a unique "truth" or opinion held even by the faithful as is evident in the endless striving for a somehow "above" position in life. Lots of nice talk about all being equal in God' eyes. Precious little actually behaving as if that is true. So, while the current institutions of religion may die, I'm fairly sure the replacements will be nothing but new and not necessarily improved forms of hierarchy to serve the climber needs/delusions of those who fancy themselves "better" than the rabble.
But hey, it's good to dream.

SisterBJBrown@gmail.com said...

I have been feeling this for some time, and yet I also feel wedded to the institution and don't desire a divorce. This often times causes a conflict with my soul and I don't really know what to do about it other than try to swim in the current of those crazy baptismal waters, and be open to where the Spirit leads... I do hope my rudderless ship is cared for as well as was that of Brendan, Columba and those other crazy Celts. Some day this summer, might you have a few moments to spare for a chat along these lines... I value your wisdom, and I'd love a drive down LSD way. SBJ

Martie Collins said...

I am a big fan. I enjoy your comments on Episcopalians on Facebook. I think you're really cool. That being said: Et tu, Elizabeth?

My church is an small, struggling urban parish with a moneypit of campus, a part time priest (when we find a new one), and a congregation of a "a certain age." We are struggling, but we need the things a church can give us. And we're not going to get them at a cathedral that is an hour away on public transportation (bus, el, and trolley) and has no free parking.

We need a lot of things, but not discouraging articles about the sad state of things, even though they make good points. But they may drive us away from the church, Christianity, and religion in general.

If I think about this too much, I start to cry. So I have decided not to. The only reason I read this article is that is was by you.

Your suggestions for improvement are great, but they should be in addition to, not instead of. Community parishes serve a great need, although of course there is plenty of room for improvement.

We're all trying to do the best we can and be the best Christians possible, but we need help and encouragement.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you" Pep. This has obviously been stewing for a long time in my soul

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

MadPriest - do I go far enough? I don't know. I only know that we have to stop playing church and making Christians

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - if you repost your thoughts and leave your name, I will publish it, but to answer you question, no, I'm not bitter. Why is it that when a hard truth is spoken, especially by a woman, anger and bitterness are always suspect. Open your eyes. Look around. More and more people are "spiritual but not religious". Look at the ASA. Look at the figures cited in this article. Read the two articles - Leadership in Anxious Times, but also follow the link tomDirty, Sexy, Ministry. These are young women, both rectors, mKing much the same points I make.

The church is dying. Long live Christianity

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - I suppose you're right. I hate to admit that, but I suppose you're right. Perhaps MadPriest is right and I don't go far enough. I'm just passionate about Christianity. The rest is bollocks

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sr BJ - lets do lunch and chat. My treat. Dos Locos, of course

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Martie. I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but, you know, I sorest of feel like the Hospice Chaplain to the church. When my Hospice patients see me come, they know there's no longer any room for denial. If we learn nothing else from the movies, we know that, when a baby is about to be born,you boil water, and when someone is about to die, you call the chaplain.

Here's the truth of it: like it or not, acknowledge it or not, the church IS dying. Pretending it isn't won't change the prognosis. Admitting that can be enormously liberating. And, energizing. Give it a try and see what happens

Marthe said...

Well, actually, I'd rather be helpful than right ... just trying to get to the root of the problem, as you are. You have very accurately identified the issue: that "church" has become more about structure than caring for one another, more about arguments than actions and has lost what it treasures most, moral authority. Seems to me that authority, that rightness entitled to judge, dictate, condemn or bless, is a power of hierarchy not easily surrendered, even when it has become an empty habit of rhetoric.
Christianity will survive because of passion such as yours that comes from that deep place within of genuine human decency, not because of any building or set of canons.

Matthew said...

I wonder what you thought of Barbara Brown Taylor's book, Leaving Church? I also have a question for you. You write:
The "ministry of the purse" is that of the deacon. What do you mean by that? I had always thought of permanent deacons as those who bring the church to the world, the poor, the outsider. The deacons I have known did not usually deal with money so I was curious about that sentence. Every parish ought to have a dialogue based on this blog post. I assume you don't mind if I forward this. Thanks, Matthew

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - I think you're right.

I am growing increasingly concerned about the "spiritual but not religious" group being the fastest growing religion in the West. Churches are crucifying Christians everywhere.

It's a sin.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew -

I think BBT's book is a critically important piece of this conversation. Indeed, in many ways, she started it.

In the early church Deacons were also teachers and catechists and provided pastoral care as well as the administrators of time, talent and treasure. They not only presided over the distribution of food, they also "tended to the purse" to make sure there was enough money to care for those who needed help. It's a wonderful order of ministry which we have lost.

Finally, I hope lots of people have lots of conversations about this subject. I hope churches will look at their budget and, if the care and maintenance and repair of the church's B&G is more than the money allocated for mission and outreach, that the church ask itself how it is living the gospel of Jesus Christ.

8thday said...

I have often compared leaving the institutional church with leaving my parent’s home. Both gave me wonderful foundations in love and gratitude and service. And just as it is healthy and necessary for a person to leave their parent’s nest, I do believe it is healthy and necessary to leave the institutional church and be able to fly on your own.

I no longer consider myself a Christian, although I have a great deal of respect for the life and teachings of Christ. The rest of the story - virgin birth, miracles, resurrection - don’t matter to me. So I suppose I am now part of the spiritual but not religious crowd. ‘Spiritual’ meaning that I continue to foster a relationship with God. I do beleive think that Christ taught many meaningful lessons in how to achieve and nourish that relationship.

Once I left church (or they threw me out depending on who you believe) I realized a number of things:

- that it made much more sense to donate my time and talents to causes I believed in rather than having the lion’s share of my money spent on pastor salaries and new boilers for buildings that are incredibly under used.

- that I didn’t need a church community to have a sense of community.

- that I was mindlessly reciting words that I no longer believed and would rather recite words that touched my soul.

-that I didn’t need to show up once a week to hear some pastor tell me what God wants as if ordination gave them some special insight. No disrespect intended but I never did understand why people thought clergy had some special powers.

- that God created the earth, man created buildings. Why was I spending any time in a building looking to converse with God? I can go to my garden or into the woods and feel instantly connected.

- that my relationship to God was an intimate relationship, not something I necessarily wanted or needed to share with a community.

- that the Bible is filled with horrible, violent and misogynist stories and why anyone, and most particularly women, would want that as their foundation is beyond me.

- that most churches are really private clubs with all the ugly politics and exclusivism that that conjures. Even so called “inclusive” churches get their panties in a bunch when a stranger enters their midst.

So I do agree with you Elizabeth on most points. Churches are dying and for good reasons. And I’m sure it scares the crap out of everyone who makes money or gains power from them. But just like children who leave their parents and find they can stand on their own emotionally and financially and are healthier for spreading their wings, people are leaving the institutional church and finding they can stand alone spiritually without a white collar interceding or interferring. And they are healthier and holier for it. Well, at least I am.

Whether Christianity will thrive or even survive, I have no idea. I would bet not. I think the bad press, corruption and the centuries of hypocrisy will be too much too overcome. But who knows? Perhaps the second coming will actually come. Stranger things have been known to happen.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

8th Day. The institutional church is crucifying Christians at an alarming rate. It makes me so sad when it doesn't concern me deeply.

8thday said...

Well, I can't say I was crucified, but certainly ostracized. And I'm not sure I would have left had I not been pushed. But as these things often happen, it turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The truth of your words is heartbreaking.

Martie Collins said...

I guess that since I have had a good (though not perfect) experience with organized religion, I am reluctant to give it up, especially since it is my only connection to believers. (I'm the only Protestant in my family. The others are Catholics, recovering Catholics, and atheists/agnostics.)

Organized religion has treated a lot of people horribly and disgraced itself. But for some of us, it's all we have. Christianity is hard work and I for one can't do it by myself.

Christina Wible said...

"In the early church Deacons were also teachers and catechists and provided pastoral care as well as the administrators of time, talent and treasure. They not only presided over the distribution of food, they also "tended to the purse" to make sure there was enough money to care for those who needed help. It's a wonderful order of ministry which we have lost." You struck such a chord here with me. As a retired Episcopal deacon I have spent a couple of years trying to figure out why I am retired. I realized only a short time ago that it was that the institutional church had no room for me as a teacher (priest's job)or as an administrator (whoever's job) but looked upon a seminary trained vocational deacon as a sort of a duckbilled platapus. A clear and committed recognition of the ministry of all the people is a prerequisite to change. You have articulated my longings. Hopefully someone will take heed.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - please, if you have time, humor me and read my post again. I am not talking about doing away with organized religion. If you pay attention, you'll see that I'm talking about re-organizing religion. That may be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic but I really don't think so. I'm talking about reorganizing religion away from buildings and toward the people of God.

Hope that's helpful to you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Christina - In order for things to change, I think more and more people need to take the ideas articulated in these three articles and begin to discuss them. Why not form a summer discussion series around this topic? Schlep out some of these articles? Have people read them and discuss them and pray over them?

That's how change will happen.

As for your "retirement" - well, bullocks! Get back in the game. Jesus needs you. We need you. Who cares what the "institutional church" says? It's dying anyway. Follow Jesus.

Martie Collins said...

Dear Elizabeth, I like to think I am a progressive, future-embracing liberal, but I guess not always.

As I've said before about your ideas, you're probably right, but I don't like to think so.

We can all keep on keeping on and praying for each other.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Martie - I don't think your objections tarnish your political credentials. I get it. What I'm suggesting is not easy. Indeed, it's so hard, I'm quite sure I'll never see it in my lifetime. So, you can rest easy. But, I will remind you of the old definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting things to change.

8thday said...

I'm not sure why you feel the truth of my words is heartbreaking. To me it feels like I was released from a very confining cage.

In many ways I believe I am agreeing with you - get out of the buildings and rules and hierarchy and power politics. Go out and spread your wings and fly. You can truly soar.

Marthe said...

Dear Elizabeth - Absolutely, this humoring you thing -- count on it, AND take you seriously, too. I totally understand the many, many whys f peoples' need and desire to keep and yet reform their church institutions ... am not opposed to these efforts to engage actual people in treating one another as Jesus did: with real compassion and the sort of tolerance for difference that is not merely a sort of condescending admission that there's no point in trying to change other human beings, but a celebration of human variety.
I think the "spiritual but not religious" would return to some new and improved organized religion if that new version wasn't focused on trying to identify itself as separate or better than "other" people of belief presumed to be less worthy of God's love and attention.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

8th Day - It's just because I hear those words of truth from so many people, and it reminds me how many good, faithful people the church has pushed out the door.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - I think you're right

Grandmère Mimi said...

The institutional church, as we know it, is dying, but the church, the Body of Christ, will not die. The church, like the grain of wheat, repeatedly dies and rises, but what we see happening today is dramatic, because change is coming so swiftly. Ready or not, the times they are a-changin', and we will have to adjust.

What form the rising church will take, I can't say. Perhaps something similar to the earliest gatherings of Christians, or perhaps something completely different. Whatever happens, we have Jesus' promise, "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - One person wrote me offline to say, "I don't care what the church looks like in its next incarnation, as long as I never have to go to another Vestry, diocesan or church committee meeting or bake another damn cookie to keep the light and heat on."

Grandmère Mimi said...

Did it all, but using the excuse of age, I've put all that behind me. I've done my time.

Fred Garvin said...

Church is dying for the same reasons spat and buggy whip factories are closed; nobody's buying what they're making/selling any more.
Why did I leave-it was just too boring. Why should I run twice as fast to get to the same place morally?
What do you get in church, any church, that you don't get just staying home?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - I'd rather eat ground glass than go to another Vestry meeting.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Fred - I do believe that community has the power to heal. Unfortunately, in most churches the size of, say 100-120 ASA, you may be lucky enough to find 5 real Christians.