Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Last night I heard a talk about why people are leaving mainline denominations in droves. The speaker, a recognized offical religious leader, gave the sociological reasons for decline and ended his talk with by describing spiritual hunger and his hope that this hunger would give the Church the fuel to be the Church. All in all, a good talk with gaps.

The speaker is a few years older than I, not much, but enough that he blew off his lack of technological curiosity. My bloggie readers can see that I'm not tech enough to hyperlink, know how to add pictures or do anything creative with media on this blog. However, I am aware of these gaps in my ability and intend to learn the basics. I need to be shown. When I find someone who will sit long enough to show me, I'll get it. Reading directions about tech stuff confuses me.

I mention this because I am aware that the world is changing quickly and technology is a key to this change. My world is larger because of the internet both in how I research issues as well as how I interact with a larger world without seeing my partners or hearing their voices.

One of his points was that people have moved their loyalty from denominations to local churches. Where before people were loyal to the Presbyterian Church, now they are loyal to their local flavor of presbyterianism. I've seen this coming. The larger Church is distant, institutional, difficult to navigate and huge.

What troubles me about this change in loyalty is that a strength of the larger Church is it's ability to do mission on a big scale and keep believers from investing their energies in a particular pastor. We've seen, throughout history, the problems with following a pastor rather than following a group. We Presbyterians, on paper, do a good job of not putting church members in a Jim Bakker/PTL Club kind of boundary-less cult of personality.

The problem with our traditional manner is that it is impersonal. We have no titular head whose leadership goes on for years and frames our lives together across the country. There is no single person to point to as the "flavor" of our Church. Nowadays, people want to feel connected to a person, not an institution. All the correctives of restraining a cult following of an individual are falling away.

I feel the shift under my feet of the old forms crumbling. Some days I think I am turning into an old fart bemoaning how great the past was. All older people think the younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket. Is this what I am sensing?

I don't think the past Church was great. It was exclusive in class, gender and race issues. The presence of God was supplanted by thinking about God. You had to know the language to participate. As a generational Presbyterian, even as a sixth generation Scottish immigrant, I, who could be a poster child for cradle Presbyterianism, felt excluded and can document exclusion.

But the new forms of church life? Will we be better off broken away from each other into smaller groups? I fear that schism is coming around the time that the report on the Peace and Purity of the Church Taskforce is published (Sept.15, 2005).

10 comments:

reverendmother said...

I wish I could say more, but this was a wonderfully insightful post.

reverendmother said...

That sounded cagey... I meant that I'm rushed, not that I have some inside info I can't share.

[TOO much of a hurry I guess]

SpookyRach said...

This sounds like what I have heard my minister father say for years - the denomination, in this case Southern Baptist, was doing terrible wrongs. However, we have done some very good things through our organization and institutions. How do you crumble the things that need to crumble and leave intact the good?

revmom/cheesehead said...

Oh, St Cass, I have the same anxiety you do about the PUP report. Part of me thinks the people should maybe leave if they are that unhappy...then I snap out of it and realize that I am one of the people that others want to see gone!

Quotidian Grace said...

Very insightful and timely post. Our church just lost one of the "pillar" families of the church to a non-denominational fellowship because of many of these issues. That is causing us to do some deep soul-searching about the authenticity of our mission and program. I share your concern about the imminent PUP report.

Aola said...

I was a part of denominational and non-denominational churches for 20 years. People(talking about myself here) are leaving because of the misuse of power, the fact that church has become so corporate minded, the need for more intimate relationships, the need to be more relevant to the world around us, so many, many reasons. But, we don't feel like we have left the church,we just left a system of organized religion that doesn't work for us anymore.
The church can and does exist outside of organized religion (and always has).

Friday Mom said...

Last week's Presbyterian Outlook's article on the New Wineskins group left me feeling like the shift toward schism is well-organized and simply awaiting the TFoPUPoC's report as its signal to move forward. I regret that. But I do think people in this day and age are wondering what we are trying to preserve in protecting denominational identity. I'm not ready to do away with it. It serves an important purpose: 1) cooperation for larger mission, and 2) checks and balances to prevent misuse of power and/or a cult-like mentality. I do, however, think we're going to have to find a way to do these things with a bit more openness to the changes in the world around us. It's a critical time in the life of the church, but as is the case with a lot of crisis, it presents an opportunity for change than can be transformative and destructive.

Friday Mom said...

Uhhh... that last sentence should read "and *not* destructive." Oooops....

St. Casserole said...

Well said, all of you.
Friday Mom, we knew what you meant. I agree with you.
I don't like this "no GA" thing. I think in conflict we need to move toward each other and not away. I feel out of sorts that we aren't having a GA this year. It's as if we cancelled it due to "war".

PPB said...

I agree the lack of GA feels "off" to me. I've had a lot of thoughts about denominationalism since moving to an area where there are few Presbies and lots of UCCs. It's changed me. I'm not sure whether it's for better or for worse.