Breathing new life into churches
Letter from the Chair
As always, this E-Update from me is a personal reflection and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of other members of PCN Britain or of its Management Committee. It is intended to highlight concerns and / or experiences that I have in the hope that other progressive Christians will find issues of interest for further consideration and reflection.
For four weeks, from early May this year, I had the privilege of preaching, delivering seminars and promoting my book ‘Setting Jesus Free’ in Colorado, Michigan and Ontario. The initial two weeks were spent as the Theologian in Residence at the First United Methodist Church in Boulder. It was a time of great blessing for me. In my travels over the four weeks I met many wonderful people and visited a number of vibrant and hugely committed churches.
It was obvious to me that the dynamics of church life ‘over there’ and ‘over here’ are extremely different. In the USA ‘God’ remains an important part of the social as well as the religious life of communities and people are not put off by ‘God conversations’. Around 2/3rds of the US population still attend church regularly, whereas here in the UK it is between 2% and 10% depending upon which stats one uses. Church attendance in Canada is not that dissimilar to here, and progressive Christians often have a hard time on both sides of the Atlantic.
However, there are some trends in common on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, in USA there is now a perceivable trend towards a decline in church attendance, including amongst churches in the Bible Belts. Even mega-churches are no longer immune. For example, perhaps the best known, the Crystal Cathedral located in Garden Grove, California, has decided to lay off 50 staff owing to a recent decline in attendance and financial giving, along with selling off properties and reconsidering parts of its international television broadcasting service, etc.
Another common trend is the concern that regular church attendees in both USA and Canada share with us: the rapid decline in the involvement of the 20 - 40 year olds and therefore also amongst their children. Having said that, I also witnessed an enormous amount of time, personnel and resources dedicated to work with children and young people. Another emerging trend is for an increasing interest in spirituality without the confines of religion.
I have returned home with renewed enthusiasm for progressive spirituality in general and progressive Christianity in particular. We really do have a viable alternative to the type of contemporary ‘fresh expression’ that seeks to dress up the old with new suits of clothing. But with such enthusiasm comes the health warning: Stanislaw Lec, the Polish poet and aphorist, stated, “When smashing monuments, save the pedestals - they always come in handy.” Part of the raison d’être of PCN Britain is to support its members to stay in the Church – I hope that we still have the time to breathe new life into her.
From the PCN Website
A free day conference is on offer from PCN in York next month. It is lead by Dave Tomlinson, vicar of St Luke’s, Holloway. His theme is How Churches must Change or Die. Dave is author of The Post Evangelical and Re-Enchanting Christianity, as well as founder of Holy Joes in London. His first talk follows the PCN AGM which starts at 11am (10.30 refreshments and registration). The day ends around 3.15. http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/events/detail/how_churches_must_change_or_die/
An important meeting is coming up for people living in the Glasgow area. The city has lacked a PCN group until now, though this has not been for lack of progressive Christians. Chris Vermeulen from Orchardhill parish church in Giffnock is organising an open meeting this Thursday for those interested in being part of a PCN group. Mary McMahon, PCN’s vice chair, will be among those speaking. For details see http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/locations/groups/glasgow/
PCN chair, John Churcher is leading a day’s workshop based around the themes of his new book, “Setting Jesus Free”. This takes place on July 14th at St Mary’s church centre, Albrighton, which is ten miles west of Wolverhampton, cost: £5. http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/events/detail/setting_jesus_free_and_us/