The Morning Call
Your View column, May 4, 2012
Declining numbers in churches of whatever flavor have become a truism, probably since the halcyon I-Like-Ike 50s but especially over the past few decades. Wednesday's Page One story detailed the past decade's local decline.
Declining numbers often mean church closings. Witness the closing of Roman Catholic churches over the past few years. They received remarkable publicity because they were done wholesale and drew controversy. There have been many others, somewhat under the radar.
Is there positive spin we might give to this phenomenon of changing churches?
Decades ago, a wire service religion editor used to say that the Episcopal Church has an influence far beyond its numbers. (Did I say he was an Episcopalian?) The Episcopal Church has a lot of experience at being a small yet effective church. There are probably more Muslims in the U. S. than there are Episcopalians.
Some of our churches with an average Sunday attendance of 50 serve the poor, the homeless, the marginalized in ways far beyond what such numbers might suggest. Some of our large churches serve the poor better than the cities in which they are located. Not only Episcopal congregations. You may be a member of a congregation like that in another denomination. It's all about the members and the leadership.
Five fewer or five more people in a congregation of 50 make a significant difference for the mission of the congregation. For that reason, among others, every person is a treasure.
Hear me. If you are not now a member of a church, talk to your local priest or minister. Tell him or her why you are not. Hear what he or she has to say. Perhaps you can't get your head around or have an incredibly bizarre notion of what you'd have to believe. People have acted themselves into believing the basics by taking part in the mission of the church. "Come and see," Jesus said. Faith is not about doctrinal purity. It is so much more, including paying attention to the hope that is within you, attending intensely to what is within and beyond.
If you can't find someone to talk with or if you are not treated as a treasure, resort to me. I'd love to hear from you.
[Canon Bill Lewellis, a retired Episcopal priest, served on the bishop's staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for 24 years and on the bishop's staff of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for 13 years before that. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org]