Saturday, May 29, 2010

What's Next for the Mainline Church

This continues following posts with John Thomas' assessment of the external and internal reasons for decline. His advice to us:

1) "Get over it!" We must get past 35 years of resentment over our decline and longing for days when our churches were respected centers of religious faith
2) Move from a mainline alignment to a "missional" alignment. If we fell like the culture has abandoned us, should we run after it. Should we try to gain "respectability." Some people were embarrassed by our TV commercials such as The Bouncer and The Ejector Seat because they saw their own church's behavior in them. We can't reject evangelism and expect anyone to be in our pews. And the ads were exactly about evangelism in a UCC style.
3) Move from taking care of who is there to who might not yet be there. What are their needs? It isn't to dismiss current members, but a church isn't a club and it must examine it's practices to see whether that is indeed the biggest priority for staff time and resources. Should the clergy be focused on pastoral visitation or empowering lay people to provide such caring resources?
4) Identify our "niche," which Thomas describes as:
a) moderate to progressive
b) publicly engaged
c) belief that government is a partner in serving the needs of society, not the enemy
d) we need social institutions and support them
e) interfaith openness
f) religious pluralism
g) ecumenical
5) focus less on training young people to be "nice" Congregationalists and provide more in-depth faith formation - how to pray, how to do biblical reflection so that when they are in college, they are both prepared for their own spiritual sustenance but also to speak intelligently to the predominant presence of conservative religious groups. Teach them spiritual practices for how to live in their 20s and 30s, when most young people are not engaged in church.
6) bring rich, lively liturgical experiences to worship. An irony about young people in church today is that they are embracing such practices as weekly communion, praying with icons, lighting candles, and other ancient practices - while at the same time expecting worship to move at a different pace than traditional mainline worship, especially music
7) get more "feisty." Challenge the desire to be "respectable." He cited the example of welcoming Sponge Bob to his office after James Dobson said the cartoon character was gay.
8) invest in the church today so it may live tomorrow. Similar resources will likely not be available
9) embrace technology in worship, even if it's purpose is to enhance ancient Christian practices

John gave us much to think about. And if nothing else, how individual each setting is and how lonely that can feel. In isolation, our churches might feel like they are failing individually. But together, they might find ideas and strength for a new day.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Internal Reasons for Mainline Decline

This continues the presentation from John Thomas on May 11, 2010. These are his assessments of internal reasons for mainline decline. The last post focused on external pressures.

1) churches were slow to adapt to disestablishment. "When the 50s come back, we'll be ready!"
2) weak evangelism
3) no faith formation for youth - focus on programming only, keeping them entertained and involved, but not prepared for college and young adulthood.
4) social movements confused churches - Vietnam, civil rights, LGBT issues, feminism
5) we have no "theological canon" or common theologians
6) church related colleges once could be counted on to teach our laity; most are nominal in name at best and being related to one denomination or another is mostly irrelevant
7) a focus on anxiety and uncertainty about the future

It's futile, he added, to do better what we once did.
The next post will be his advice about the future

Thursday, May 27, 2010

External Challenges to the Mainline Church

Former UCC president John Thomas was in Denver recently to talk to clergy and laity about the future of mainline churches like the UCC - adding that every mainline church (United Methodist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, and more) has experienced relentless decline in numbers since 1968 when all their foundations from being at the center of the culture began to shift.

He cited these external challenges:
1) low birthrate and smaller families among this group of denominations
2) the religious "bubble" following World War 2 was unsustainable. We are really returning to similar rates of religious participation in the history of the U.S.
3) cultural support for churches has collapsed. There is no more "sanctity" of Sunday morning, for example.
4) greater "competition." Catholics are no longer "ethnic enclaves" and evangelicals have become more mainstream. And evangelicals have created competing "bureaucracies" such as World Vision instead of Church World Service, and many others
5) the Institute for Religion and Democracy took aim to try to destroy the National Council and World Council of Churches, labeling them communist and worse, and helped by the likes of Reader's Digest and 60 Minutes with misleading and vicious accusations
6) small town America has declined, where small towns may have 4-5 different churches that are similar but different denominations
7) the urban/suburban shift left many large churches in an inner city island that got smaller every year
8) we are in a greater spiritual marketplace and people are choosing individual approaches to combine religious insight from a larger pool
9) people are used to shopping in Big Box stores, so why not churches

In the next post, I will identify John Thomas' Internal Reasons for Decline

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Understanding "The Way of the Cross"

We must make sure that Jesus' way of the cross is understood not as a "transaction to be believed in" but rather a "pattern of life to be followed."

Phil Snider and Emily Bowen in Toward a Hopeful Future: Why the Emergent Church is Good News for Mainline Congregations

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Welcome to Our New Site!

Many months in the making, we are so happy to unveil our new website. I hope you will explore all the resources, especially on the PrayerCenter page. The Twitter devotional updates twice a day. And the daily devotional, will obviously update daily. There are many wonderful connections to the United Church of Christ and my blog will continue to change regularly.

We also welcome your comments to help make the site better.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

From Leonardo Boff

One of the giants of Liberation Theology:

"How do I echo that big bang, that creativity, that outpouring... that is God."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Life Comes Out of the Darkness

"Life comes out of the darkness.
We need night vision.
Don't get rid of darkness too quickly.
Let it work in you."

Sister Peggy

Monday, May 10, 2010

Honey from Stones

Sister Peggy quoted from Honey from Stones:

"All of our knowledge is an island in a sea of mystery and we must extend the shores so more mystery may lap up on it beaches."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Theology of Provocation

Sister (Dr.) Peggy O'Neill, a professor of liberation theology, told us that perhaps it's time to change from a theology of liberation to a theology of provocation. She said that a church that is not persecuted makes no sense. If you say truth, you will be persecuted.

Friday, May 7, 2010

How the ARENA feel about women

Among the shocking things that came out of the mouth of the AREA party congressman:

"We will always have poor people because 70% of our people are raised by their mother. The father goes away. Each woman has 5-7 children by 3 different men. The quality of our citizens is lower because of single mothers. They are the reason for our under-development.

He also complained that "Lady Judges" let too many criminals go. And that women don't want to be in political office. The FMLN, opposition party, requires that 40% of their delegates must be women, but most do not speak in the Assembly and are not helpful."

Our group left this meeting with our mouths hanging open - for many more reasons than just this one. He actually sounded like someone reading the script of Fox News commentators with the exception that ARENA isn't seeking to make El Salvador an "English Only" country.

Make sure you read the previous post to get the whole picture.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Meeting with an ARENA congressman

One of the most surreal experiences of the whole trip was a meeting with a congressman - Mario Valiente - from the ARENA party (a RAIN a). The ARENA party was the creator of the death squads, the party of the repression of the people. The party in power and whose soldiers killed thousands of citizens. Amazingly, they remained in power for 20 years after the end of the civil war, but as we were told, they are good at building roads. A new president from the opposition FMLN party was elected last year and was inaugurated in June. ARENA remains the party in control of the Congress - or they were until some of their members broke off to create a new party. GANA. The former members of the ARENA party have crosses taped over their pictures in the party conference room where we met with the word "Traitor" typed on them. Pretty scary for a party that used to literally kill their adversaries.

Their perspective on Romero is very different. Valiente said it was a "bad idea" to kill Romero because it just created a martyr on the left. He also said it was "stupid" to kill the six Jesuit priests. It reflected badly on their country from an international perspective. Not that it was simply immoral. It was just bad policy.

He remembered Romero's radio speeches in which he ordered soldiers to stop killing the people, stop the repression. Valiente complained that he never told the guerrillas to stop killing too. (Although this all happened before the civil war). Romero was "not balanced." He respects Romero's memory, but "he was not a saint. He was a one-sided political priest." "Someone to look up to." The FMLN, party of the current president, and the political party of the former guerrillas, are "just using the 30th anniversary of Romero's death to finish creating their hero." Most FMLN, Valiente complained, are not even Christians. Why would they want a priest as their hero?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Words for our Grave Stone

We met with a dynamic nun named Sister Peggy O'Neill. She has lived in El Salvador since 1986, right in the middle of the civil war. The town where she lives - Suchitoto - had six massacres of over 150 each. And the war is still going on in the traumas faced by the citizens each today.

This is what Sister Peggy would like engraved on her tombstone:

"She died on the last day of her life and no sooner."