Sunday, July 10, 2005

Fall afresh on us

There'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.


At 9:35 AM, Blogger Deacon Tim said...

Emily, I think what you're describing is the canary screech alerting us to the gas of irrelevance of the Episcopal church. While we still fight about the "new Prayer Book" and equality for gays and lesbians, the Holy Spirit has moved on to other places. I'm sad about the the Episcopal Church, but we are joining a long list of influential, but extinct Christian movements. (Seen any Waldensians at Starbucks lately?) Pax.

Great blog, by the way. I'd like to link to it from mine, if you don't mind.

At 6:39 PM, Blogger bls said...

This is a beautiful post, Emily.

Whenever I get completely frustrated and angry about everything that's going on in the Church, and become sure it's time to just get out, something like this brings me up short. You're right that there is dignity in all seasons, but I wish we could do something for these congregations. Maybe we can, somehow; it's something to think seriously about.

Personally, I think there IS new growth beyond all of this; I think we're in a needed period of reform that will end in a better place. I hope these congregations can survive until it happens.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Annie said...

Oh, so true! I recognized my own church in this. The good and the bad. I hope that there is new life gestating, a new spirit moving.


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