Archive for June, 2012

Dear Kindred in the Spirit,

From our Sunday morning study of Diana Butler Bass‘ book “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening”:

What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today . . . .  We are moving toward a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore.  Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.’
What does that mean for ‘Christianity’?  If religion is only a garment of Christianity–and even this garment has looked very different at different times–then what is a religionless Christianity?

This may seem to describe our current reality but it was actually written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Letters and Papers from Prison, who was executed by the Nazis in 1945. Yet, all the current US trends, across denomination, point to a growing majority of religiously unidentified.  The historic foundation of America’s religious culture is cracking.  We know this personally in our congregation with declining worship attendance, smaller youth groups, and fewer young people interested in “joining” a church (even though we have a dedicated 20-30 something group).

At annual conference this last week, in the conference statistician’s report by Joy Mueller, it was reported that in New England UMCs, worship attendance is in decline overall, the number of churches is declining, church membership is declining through death as well as the growing religiously unaffiliated…. and yet, giving has remained steady or increased!!  Giving per member is actually higher in New England than it is in the Southeast jurisdiction. Her report will be posted at some point at neumc.org (I just checked and it’s not up yet).

Sociologists, historians, and theologians (like Bass, Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren) have called this a transitional time in religion, a time when a new Christianity is emerging.  What will it look like?  And what kind of leaders are needed to help us move through this time of tremendous change and anxiety and possibility?

I’m headed out to Kripalu later today for a few days for a spiritual retreat (cell-free zone, dorms, bathrooms down the hall, healthy food, yoga classes available, quiet, beautiful campus) to pray about ELUMC’s leadership needs moving forward.  Headed into another appointment year with some declining “metrics” (especially worship attendance), I’m trying to discern what are the church’s needs at this moment in time and am I the right person to lead us forward.  Since I absolutely love it here, I hope that I am, but I’m seeking God’s will for our future ’cause it’s my experience that if God’s not a part of the plan, fruitfulness will not result.  I ask you to pray with me.

Then join us for the charge conference coming up on Monday to elect new team leadership. At the council meeting on the same night, we’ll be discussing our latest Natural Church Development work and thinking about strategic goals for our life together.  Be a part of our shared way forward, won’t you?  And those of you who get this devotional email who aren’t members of ELUMC (a growing number), please pray for us.



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