Letter to a dying congregation

You’re not dying,you’re dead.

The life support is still on so,technically, you’re still going. But onlybecause nobody wants to be the oneto pull the plug.

You and your surrounding Congregations could hardly pull together a handful of people, within a decade of my age. Yet I’ve heard you describe your worship as “wonderful”, and your fellowship as “perfect”. Yes, perfect.

And nobody present, myself included, dared confront you with your frailty. They barely acknowledge their own. Our last presbytery report to Synod – like every other presbytery’s report – assured everyone that we are “in the pink”, even if the Synod is in the red.

So much good news, but where was the actual news?

The vision of Church I had as a teenager is coming true around me. As an agnostic kid, I thought Church was the kind of thing I might get into when I was old (say, 40), and had a few kids. When I had done everything interesting in life, and was ready to give up on fun, and settle down.

It’s the “settling down” that’s killing you, pilgrim Congregation.

My first Church decade was, admittedly, glorious. Terrifying and beautiful. In my 20s, God opened my eyes to the Spiritual realm, to faith and grace and the cost of discipleship: not as giving up fun, but as giving up everything. I lost my life, and started another one. I had scores of cross-bearing peers and old people around me. All losing their lives and finding new ones as disciples. I wonder where they are now? I’m pretty sure they won’t be coming to visit you. Witnessing the death throes of a Congregation, and it’s resurrection as a “perfect” Sunday club for like-minded senior citizens, is hard to take.

I’m still here, watching your lifeless corpse, and taking solace in the glimmers of life in others around you. It was a close thing, I barely hung in there, through my 30s. The fixation on homosexuality, in a world where one per cent of people control half our wealth, nearly did me in. I gritted my teeth through creationist after creationist sermon and song, 150 years after On the Origin of Species.

I hung in there as the Church led the resistance to the acceptance of human-mediated climate change. At least I joined after the Church stopped shunning any kind of care for the rest of the Earth, for fear of “nature worship.” I’ve met many expats who weren’t so lucky.

I screamed inside when your neighbouring Congregation wouldn’t let the community use “their” empty building. Endured meetings where risk was all about insurance and the cost of discipleship was the Sunday-Club balance sheet. Where “safe Church” became “risk-averse Church.”

Then my 40s, where I learned to act like a 70-year-old. An upper-middleclass 70-year-old. If I’d been better at it, things may have been easier for everyone. Perhaps I can persuade myself, in my 60s, that taking a luxury cruise or overseas holiday, qualifies as being a “Pilgrim Person”.

You’re dead. But I’m not going to flick the switch, even though there are so many newborns and future generations who so badly need the resources. Perhaps someone will, at least fight, over the will, on their behalf.

Rev. Jason John

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One thought on “Letter to a dying congregation

  1. Kimmy Fam

    Still A Battle For Hearts and Minds

    Perhaps it’s time churches consider setting up a central body to collect offerings and monetary donations with the sole objective of re-distributing it among functioning churches and local parishes according to need. At least to ensure a more equitable distribution of funds and give battling churches a lifeline. As it is now, it is not the practice of governing bodies (eg synods) nor that of the richer parishes with excess funds to leave room in their budgets to aid struggling ones.
    Each parish is responsible for its finances. Old churches with dwindling, aging congregations and mounting utility bills do not get any outside financial help . But when a church is decommissioned due to financial reasons and the land and building, often bought with private funds, sold, Synod, collects. Though the money is meant to be for use by the ‘wider church’, how do you justify a government that just taxes but have no plans to aid tax-payers financially when such aid is deserving?
    It has to be acknowledged and appreciated that many elderly worshippers are dedicated, lifelong Christians who have worshipped at the same church building for decades. They were baptized there, married there, their children and grandchildren were baptized and married there, they have had funerals of loved ones held there. In the closing chapter of their life, they are sustained by precious memories and their incontrovertible faith .
    Like it or not, architecture and scripture have become intertwined. And not surprisingly, part of their hearts and souls. For them to come to a decision to abandon it due to inability to pay utilities or insurance premiums is heart-breaking . Synod should not view financial aid to such churches as, for want of a better phrase ‘a waste of funds’. The funds may or may not prove useful in helping to enlarge the congregation or reviving the church in the longer run, but that should not be the criteria. They should be given out on the basis of compassion and goodwill, if nothing more.
    There is a human dimension here that cannot be negated or rendered invalid by cold considerations of what is or what is not practical or logical and what is or what is not cost- effective or expedient.
    Would not the head of the church, Christ himself, if he could today, direct the parts of his body with resources to spare, reach out and share their excess with those in dire lack? Would He not have regarded those faithful Christians in danger of losing their beloved place of worship among the dispossessed? Is not the giving of respect and dignity to the weak and elderly part of ‘mission’?
    There must be no discernible gaps or cracks between what the church preaches and what it practices. It will do well to remember that in this day and age that Christianity is still very much a battle for hearts and minds.

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