Yesterday I had a transcendent conversation with a friend. She is wise and kind and authentic – all ingredients of such a conversation. She said that we must simply be who we are and that out of that authenticity and goodness will come what God is trying, through us, to manifest in the world.
Though she was speaking to me as a priest trying to find his way in life, I was aware that what she was saying applies to all of us. We are at such a sad time in the life of the church today. Its glory days are over for now as wee enter into a new tunnel out of which a new kind of church will inevitably emerge both ancient and modern. But this in-between time is going to be hard.
All around us are old models of church and old models of being Christian which worked in the 20th century. But as those between ages 50 and 90 begin to age into their ending years the next generation is not choosing the church though it is very much choosing God. That is hard for those of us who are 50 and younger. In the last ten years the young have not replaced the aged who die. We have in ten years lost 25% of our membership in the Episcopal Church. That number will rise exponentially. We need the doctors of the church to speak to their patient honestly.
“What do we want to do in church?” is not the question. Nor is “What will attract young people?”
What will attract the next generations to whatever the church becomes, will be their ability to forgive the church for its grotesque manipulations and failings over the centuries and our ability to return to the things Jesus asked us to do. Gather. Eat and drink. Tell the story of Jesus. Serve each other. Serve the poor and the oppressed.
“The church” is such a big term and there are so many shallow, silly, lazy and ambitious people in its leadership. When I look at this novice in the portrait above and see his sitting among his older brothers I see the next generation.
When I was a novice in a monastery all I saw in his face was sadness. Perhaps I was projecting. But now I see gentle, graceful, determination in his eyes. I hope I am still projecting.