Fall afresh on usThere's nothing like being out on the road as a supply clergy to scare the living daylights out of this Episcopal priest. . .
Although I often wondered about and prayed for the smaller churches in my previous diocese, I was insulated in a largish, multi-staff congregation with a reasonable amount of money, multiple generations, and a debt-free plant with only the usual problems.
There's nothing like being on the road in our smaller churches, however, to make me wonder how many of our congregations are going to survive in the next ten years. Week after week I find myself in a congregation that is one crisis or a few funerals away from financial meltdown. Aging congregations with at best a couple of children and a teenager or two. Attendance of 15-40.
I've been in a church with a whole attendance of 45 that completely missed the newcomer family with the two kids because they were preoccupied with their own issues. Coffee hour (as I reported last week, not an Episcopal church but still. . .)with a bag of cookies opened on the table for hands to reach in. Bulletins with information that is opaque at best for a newcomer if not downright hostile.
And sometimes when I look out at the congregation during preaching or the Eucharistic Prayer, I see defeat and sadness in so many eyes.
Yet there is also great dignity in so many congregations, who despite so many obstacles offer worship with care every Sunday, whether there is a priest present or not, who keep up bazaars and ECW fundraisers, who take their turns at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, who paint and mow and polish faithfully.
I've come to have a great love for so many I've met on this part of the journey, but I really wonder where we are headed.