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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