"When we focus on things that are passing away we get scared, we get anxious, we get depressed, we lose hope; and when we focus on things that are being birthed and are coming newly into creation we get excited, we get imaginative, we get optimistic, we feel drawn closer to one another, we feel as if we have meaning and purpose in this life, and we have joy." -- Bishop Jim Kelsey (1952-2007)There seem to be a lot of things passing away just now. Perhaps even using the word that often gets translated "passing away"--dying--might even be a better way of saying it. Things are dying. Ways of being are dying. Even ways of being and doing church are dying. I've seen commentaries from the Alban Institute, from Archbishop Rowan Williams via Episcopal Café, and from a host of bloggers about the changes that need to happen and/or are happening in churches and seminaries throughout the church. Outside the church, political discourse has reached an all-time low with the radical fringes holding power and capturing the headlines. Death or threat of the death of a way of being or doing, and the fear engendered by it, seems to be the dominant theme these days.
I've blogged before about how we might turn our churches from hospitals or restaurants to birthing centers. The feeling of a hospice is much different from that of a maternity ward! Yet it often seems as if the church is forced into, and rewarded for, helping people pass through the gate of death more easily into the afterlife rather than midwifing the seed or spark of new life. As my friend and colleague Dylan Breuer notes, it is quite expensive to do the theological education work necessary to nurture faith from birth through adulthood. The answer, while simple in concept is challenging in execution: congregations and denominations must place a high value on lifelong Christian formation and be willing to literally put their money where their mouths are.
This will mean finally burying the idea (and the ideal) that people arrive at the doors of a church basically Christian and simply need a tweak or a touch-up and then be invited to "take a seat" in the nearest pew--whereupon they will instantly tithe and naturally gravitate to joining the Altar Guild or other vital group for maintaining the church's current program. Rather, it assumes that people arrive at the door of a church, if they even get that far, utterly unprepared and perhaps even bewildered by the myriad of sights, sounds, books, and other accouterments if Episcopal Christianity. We will have to invest time, money, and patience with folks and know that we are planting seeds that we hope and pray God will grow. Gardens or maternity wards are much nicer than parking lots or funeral parlors, aren't they?
Update: The Baptists are looking for answers, too! (link courtesy of Episcopal Café)