Wednesday, 23 November 2016
A Different Way of Praying to a Different God
The Saturday edition of the Globe and Mail carried and most interesting article which had the headline “St. Paul’s rises from the ashes with a more conservative approach to prayer”. The article looked at the “success” St. Paul’s Leaksdale, a Presbyterian church north of Toronto.
Twenty years ago St. Paul’s was facing a future familiar to many mainline protestant and Anglican churches with a future of slow decline and inevitable closure. A new minister proposed a new approach to worship which took, “a more conservative approach to Bible.” The article identified a conservative approach as, “taking a more literal interpretation of scripture and a great openness to the idea that God intervenes in the world”.
In the 20 years since that transformation St. Paul’s has a weekly attendance at worship of 400 to 500 people. It has expanded its facility to include a massive gym cater to young families in their 20’s and 30’s. Worship has done away with all the old trappings; no more organs or vestments. Rather there are drums and guitars and casual clothes.
This article made me wonder once more about what the future of religion generally and the Anglican church specifically. Is the future of religion to be one in which provides easy answers in black and white to its flock? Is it going to be more fundamentalist in line with many other religions and in line with how the world seems to be moving? In this postmodern world or post-postmodern world people are losing their faith in the traditional institutions as we have seen in the Brexit vote in Britain and the election of Donald Trump. People seem to want black and white answers to complex questions as the world becomes more complex. They want to know without a doubt that this is right and that is wrong. They want to be able to give easy answers to problems and identify the problems as being out there and not within us. The search for scapegoats is becoming more frenzied every day.
I believe that there is much that mainline Protestant churches can learn from churches such as St. Paul’s. Fundamental/Evangelical Christians do put their money and their talents where their collective mouths are. They know what they believe in and are generally not shy in sharing that with others. The make a concerted effort to evangelize and spread their understanding of the Gospel. This is not something that Anglican churches and Anglicans generally do well. We Anglicans often do not know clearly what we believe in and do not have the language to be able to share that with others. That it something that we need to be better equipped to do. It is certainly something that I was reluctant to do for much of my life growing up in the United Church and now being an Anglican for the last thirty years.
The Anglican and mainline Protestant churches need to become better at evangelism. However, to do this we need to develop a new understanding evangelism which is right for this time and place. The article considered St. Paul’s to be a “success”. I put that in quotes because we need to redefine what it means to be successful. We need above all to continue to explore what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ as revealed in scripture and in the world. That does not mean that there are black and white, easy answers to the complex reality of God’s world. It does not mean that we look for scapegoats to drive into the wilderness carrying all our sins.
Last Sunday we celebrated the Reign of Christ. I had the opportunity to preside at my former congregation of St. James Parkhill. I proclaimed in my sermon that as we start Advent next week we have the perfect opportunity for a “Do Over”. We have the opportunity to prepare for the again for the coming of the incarnation of God in this world and in each of us. It is a God given opportunity to learn and to explore and to prepare ourselves to share the love of Jesus Christ and to love one another as Christ loves us. Thanks be to God.