This week I was in a bit of a hurry, so I went through a drive through to get a sandwich, coffee and sweet for lunch. When I got to the wicket, the employee informed me that my meal had been paid for by the previous customer. The server told me, “The man said, ‘Enjoy your lunch, you’re doing a good job!'” This was quite a surprise, and I was very thankful for this good deed, and for this affirmation of my ministry.
Sometimes I am amazed with public affirmation of my ministry and vocation as a leader of a faith community, because at times it seems that there is little to acknowledge or affirm the presence of faith in the public life in Canada. Life in this country tends to focus faith as a private and non-essential part of a person’s life, rather than an accepted and integral basis from which to move.
Many in the church lament this reality, and regularly I hear the concerns and comments of members of our faith community. I hear people say, “Sunday is no longer sacred,” and, “If only it were like the good old days.” While there are times that I lament the size of the population of the gathered at the main liturgy on a Sunday, (usually a week in January or February when we have an especially bad storm), I lament more the tendency for congregations to be inward looking and self serving.
I believe that we are called to gather for worship each week, and that this continues to be a struggle for the faith community. I recognize that each faith community struggles with the various factors that distract the community of the baptized from our main focus – to offer worship and praise to God, and in the process to become transformed so as to bring the present world closer to that which God intends for his kingdom, for God’s realm, however you may wish to say it.
So with all these laments by some members of our faith community, I went to the statistics of our weekly parish worship, and found a notice in the Sacristy, on the board since about 1989.
Note that we have increased the communicants at the early worship, and each week we still have approximately 300 souls for worship. This is given an annual average baptism rate of 42, confirmations at 24, weddings at ten and funerals at 28.
With all that we are doing in this parish, www.theparishoftheascension.ca, numbers are steady, not declining, nor necessarily growing. This may be the source of the lament for some churchgoers. The community is gradually changing because many of the core members are aging and dying. Many newer worshipers have come, yet these are only replacing those who have gone, or have only come for a time period and then moved on.
In all of this, there has been another conversation occurring in my heart, and also in some parts of the church. How does the community of faith reach out in the world? What is the difference between going to church, and being church? Recent conversations in our diocese have been life giving for me, as I have listened to scholars and priests discuss that nature of society. How have the Judeo-Christian values shaped and formed the consciousness of culture and society? Here on this island it is very evident. There is a natural progression from leadership at Christ’s table to leadership within communities and within the province. Premiers, mayors, MHA’s, Councillors have been regular worshipers in their own faith communities. Many leaders of government, industry, medicine and education have been formed by their faith communities. How these individuals are formed in prayer directly affects their vocation in the world. Their influence is shaped by their relation to the Holy Spirit in their midst. How then can we lament that the church is dying or irrelevant?
At times I feel as if we are trying to hold on to decaying forms and patterns for ministry, without taking bold steps to move out as partners with Christ in this world. We are so worried about how we are perceived within the confines of the worshiping community that we fail to live as Jesus intends. Are we simply lamenting because the structures that have formed us are dying? Do we not recall, as is shared in Jonah and in the Gospels, that there must be death and rebirth? We are a resurrection people, and we are called to live out the patterns of the resurrection in all that we do – not just in a weekly Sunday remembrance.
I enjoyed my lunch this week, provided by an anonymous member of the wider world, who saw in me some affirmation of what I stand for, which is life in Christ Jesus. I will continue to ponder how I am in the world, of the world, and continually being transformed through Christ who walks with me.