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February 11, 2008

Comments

David Ewart

Gee Bob's comment started out so well :)

Seems like we agree om most things except the part about "defy the basic tenets of Christianity." That comment requires a more nuanced reply than I am capable of except to say:

1) I don't agree with Bob (how's that for "nuance?"); and,

2) The "basic tenets of Christianity" have been, throughout the entire 2,000 year history of the church, a constantly evolving conversation (and sometimes a very heated argument). At no time has the total church ever agreed on exactly what are the "basic Christian tenets." For example, the Apostle's and the Nicenan creeds were both formed in controversy and have constantly been the object of on-going argument and revision. Defying the basic tenets of Christianity puts the United Church amidst a host of saints who have been persecuted for the same ideological reasons. That doesn't mean we have got it right. All I am saying is that the "defying basic tenets" doesn't hold water as an argument. (Aren't I good at nuamce?)

Bob

After having read all the comments, I came to the conclusion that only David knows what he is talking about. The rest of the comments dwell in the fairy tale land of academic blather and do not address the real, pressing problems of the UCC. Those other commentators concentrate, not on bringing people to Christ and thence to make disciples of them but on money, bricks and mortar and the fortunes of the UCC. Listen up folks, you have altered your beliefs so severely that many other Christian churches consider the UCC to be a cult, doomed to close its doors in 10-15 years because you have essentially removed yourself from Jesus because you can't stop talking about trivia. God does not care if the sign outside the church reads UCC, Anglican, Pentecostal or whatever other Christian denomination there be but when you openly defy the basic tenets of Christianity you cannot call your self Christian any more. The closure of congregations is about to be accelerated in the next 5 years simply because of the demographics of aging and you can expect to loose at least 1000 congregations while you endlessly debate what you should do next. For those of you who want to remain Christian you need to separate from the parent body and concentrate on winning souls instead of UCC members.

The revolution has began
Bob Baptiste

S Lyster

David - lo and behold, when one tries to say something intelligent on the rise and fall of institutions, one runs into the sociological concept of "emergence". Fancy that.

Turns out, the United Church is not crumbling and dismantling itself, although it is. There is a set of very complex social forces going n that is out of the control of any individual or any one institution.

What is an institution? Wikipedia: "Although unindividual, formal organizations, commonly identified as "institutions," may be deliberately and intentionally created by people, the development and functioning of institutions in society in general may be regarded as an instance of emergence; that is, institutions arise, develop and function in a pattern of social self-organization, which goes beyond the conscious intentions of the individual humans involved."

Take marriage as an example of an institution undergoing change: "In the United States and western Europe, a transition from a conception of marriage, as license for sexual intercourse granted by Church and State, to a conception of marriage as a form of contract, freely entered into, has occasioned momentous social and political controversies regarding laws and customs governing the freedom of women, divorce, cohabitation outside marriage, contraception, and homosexuality."

The term "emergent" was coined by the pioneer psychologist G. H. Lewes, the concept behind the term has been in use since at least the time of Aristotle. John Stuart Mill and Julian Huxley are just some of the historic luminaries who have written on the concept.

Professor Jeffrey Goldstein in the School of Business at Adelphi University provides a current definition of emergence in the journal, Emergence. For Goldstein, emergence can be defined as: "the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems."

Goldstein's definition can be further elaborated to describe the qualities of this definition in more detail:

"The common characteristics are: (1) radical novelty (features not previously observed in systems); (2) coherence or correlation (meaning integrated wholes that maintain themselves over some period of time); (3) A global or macro "level" (i.e. there is some property of "wholeness"); (4) it is the product of a dynamical process (it evolves); and (5) it is "ostensive" - it can be perceived. For good measure, Goldstein throws in supervenience -- downward causation."

This level of dialogue is way, way beyond inclusion in a sermon meant for a general audience. But it goes a long way to allaying the fears and disallusionments of those who think the United Church is crumbling because the devil is doing it.

S Lyster

My comments were not meant to enshrine our property as untouchable. They were meant to counteract the knee jerk responce that rids us of our assets, thinkin that that particular pendulum swing is the answer.

I think that the either/or dynamic of most United Churches (and wider bodies like Conference, et. al.) is causing us to lose perspective and we end up doing strategic planning from a sense of desperation, with entrenched sides. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

It’s a given that most United Church people over-identify with their building or their bricks and mortar. Losing the building is seen as a sign of losing the ministry, so it prevents sober thought that choosing to lose the building (even when everything’s manageable and paid for) might be what God’s calling us to.

Then there’s the other side that goes so far as to identify the loss of a building as being a false righteous - keeping to what's thought to be our core ministry of poverty. I’m sure no one intends it to look like this, but the current buzz-phrase around the church is: “God does not call us to be landlords.” First of all, unless I’m completely misreading the 1st and 2nd chapter of Genesis, or the overarching theme of care for the land and the stranger who resides in it (in the Old Testament) - yes, one of the core theological tasks we have is to be landlords.

Occupying & owning land is not, per se, the theological task – but once we have it the point is to treat it as something different than as a source of cash. The Old Testament only removes people from the land as a source of punishment because they abused it and the people therein, not because they weren’t supposed to own or care for it to begin with!

David E’s point is that the trends in our church is that we’ll hold on to all this until we have one last 110 year old frantically trying to pay the bills out of her personal chequing account. The partnering that David S. talks about (ie. Providing a facility next to a Tim Horton’s for youth…. Hey, no fair!) is one thing we can do. My hope is that the United Church which did this, did it out of a sense of forward strategic planning that was not initiated by crisis…. Although if I know my United Churches……..

Where I disagree with other people named David is that it is not about reducing overhead per se. It is about refocusing because of Christian mission. We have to do the latter first. And it may actually entailing INCREASING OVERHEAD.

I’ve been around long enough to be able to fill in this phrase a number of times: “Whatever happened to the cash from the sale of (fill in the blank)?” Sale is always a one way street. And years later (I’m talking 20 or 30 years here, but that’s only me – imagine someone who remembers 110 years of the future!) often not only is the cash gone, but so is the original refocused Christian mission (of 30 years previous) which did not endure, meaning it did not catch fire with the next generation. It was “our” mission; meaning an exclusive-our belonging to a group in one point in time, not an inclusive-our. When the exclusive-we goes, so does the mission.

On top of this, the land (the enduring asset) is gone.

Anyway, enough. Got to tend to the kids. And do some puttering around the house here, so that it may endure for future generations who think of it as (not a house, but a) home.

Cheers,

Stuart

David Martyn

> Perhaps it is time for another ³Great Awakening?²

I think we are already into it if Jim Wallis is right. I am just starting this book - so I can't say much more now.

http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=special.TGA&item=TGA_main

--
David Martyn
Delta, British Columbia, Canada

David Ewart

So now I have say Thanks to Stuart for sharpening a point I was trying to make!

I used “connecting” primarily as a way of using language I imagine non-Church folks might relate to. I do believe that we Church folk need to talk about conversion and evangelization, primarily because WE, in my humble opinion, need a conversion and evangelization.

I’m not that convinced that many United Church folks actually have passion about their God / Jesus / Spirit / Church.

And I am completely certain that the United Church has also rejected evangelization and conversion. We stand for respectful dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of respectful dialogue with other faiths. But we often only have “respectful dialogues” even amongst ourselves; we have no place for passionate commitment. When was the last time you heard a United Church person talking about their deeply experienced love for Jesus? When was the last time a United Church person got caught up by the Holy Spirit while praying? We have (rightly, in my opinion) rejected conservatism, and we have (wrongly, in my opinion) also rejected commitment and passion which we believe can only be part of being conservative.

I would describe my last ten years as a second conversion; trying to figure out where in the United Church I can bring my heart for Jesus as well as my head for Jesus. I never tire of learning ABOUT Jesus; but I am also longing to deepen my learning FROM Jesus. (As a little experiment, try counting how many times Jesus is mentioned IN THE PRESENT TENSE in a sermon. When I do this, I notice that Jesus may never be mentioned at all, and almost always only as a figure of history – in the past tense.)

What we need is not strategies for more down-sizing, amalgamating, closing. We need training and strategies for conversion and evangelization; first for ourselves, and then for “connecting” to others. And these strategies need to be focussed on being of “benefit” to the other, for THEIR good and to the glory of God; and NOT tricks to help fill our pews / committees / coffers.

Perhaps it is time for another “Great Awakening?”

Thanks for the conversation. I have found it very helpful.

Sincerely,
David Ewart

Bill Booth

Stuart David Judy and all

> Why not “conversion to”, rather than just connecting with so-called
> generic “spiritual people”? My experience is that there is no such
> thing as a generic spiritual person who is not grounded to a
> particular theological narrative, and not all theological narratives
> are equal.

I think this is where we need to move. We need to be bold enough to believe that we have something worth offering to others. Bold enough to actually believe someone might be converted.

There is an article in the Observour this month telling the story of conversion from biblical literalism and atonement theology to the greater openness of the our tradition. the woman telling her story even suggest a born again expereince into what we take for granted.

To a degree Emerging Spirit is a response to this as well. We have something valauable to offer.

Although I think we need to remember not to loose the personal transformation as well. It may be time to once again have a division of evanglism and to mean it. Maybe we need a Evanglism Team for the Fraser Presbyrtery.

My point is that in the next 10 years or so there will significant change in for the UCC just because of leadership demographics.
I do agree with Stuart's point that we don't necessarily need to white wash the langauge of transformation and conversion even if we are saying converted to our own spiritual roots.

Peace Bill

Stuart Lyster

> And actually Stuart's reply somewhat diverted me from what is really my central point.

> Namely, the United Church as a whole has to begin immediately to do a better job of recruiting new people.

First, don’t you mean “converting”? Second, the thought that I COULD divert you fills me with immeasurable glee.

>I realize this may not be felt with the same urgency in some parts of Fraser Presbytery, but the bottom line is not money.

Nor should it be.

> In our case it is a well thought out and carefully followed through approach to reaching out and connecting with those spiritual people who view organized religion with wariness.

Why not “conversion to”, rather than just connecting with so-called generic “spiritual people”? My experience is that there is no such thing as a generic spiritual person who is not grounded to a particular theological narrative, and not all theological narratives are equal. (Although I do go with the Dali Lama, who suggests that “spiritual people” return to their spiritual home – faith-psychology-culture are very interwoven. Why not just be converted back to one’s home-spirituality?)

But you are correct – it is not about money. It is about articulating our own theological narrative to the point where someone else might actually think it worthwhile being converted to it.

Cheers,
Stuart

David Ewart

Hi Bill,

You certainly may enter the conversation. You raise a further interesting point about Baby Boom clergy retirements.

And actually Stuart's reply somewhat diverted me from what is really my central point. Namely, the United Church as a whole has to begin immediately to do a better job of recruiting new people. I realize this may not be felt with the same urgency in some parts of Fraser Presbytery, but the bottom line is not money. In our case it is a well thought out and carefully followed through approach to reaching out and connecting with those spiritual people who view organized religion with wariness.

David.

David Ewart

Stuart,

Your response is completely logical, sensible and rational. I totally agree with everything you say. Now. Let’s add up the number of congregations who have followed the course you have suggested when faced with this dilemma. And add up the number of congregations who have hung on to their property to the bitter end despite all evidence to the contrary. There are some in the first column, but many more in the second. I know because I have been there, done that. You yourself have had experience with a certain camp property that has overtones of what I am talking about.

The reason I am “gloomy” is precisely because my observation is that after 30 to 40 years of dedicated, sacrificial commitment to maintaining and operating a building for the greater good of the church – asking those same people (who have now become the “faithful remnant”) to sell and become money managers is a non-starter. It ain’t gonna happen. Time after time, congregations chose “the devil they know” rather than take on an uncertain and unknown future. They would rather have the certainty of closing than the uncertainty of trying something new.

Or it ain’t gonna happen soon enough. It takes 2 to 3 years for churches to sell property that often is in non-compliance with existing zoning. And often congregations only make this decision as an “after all else has failed and we are totally exhausted and worn out and can’t go on any more” option. (And the alternatives you suggest are actually not all that readily available.) They simply do not have the energy and will and skills and imagination and enthusiasm and mutual good will to negotiate through that process and into the next adventure.

Or it is gonna happen with hard feelings – frustration / despair / anger / failure / shame / blame – that will NOT result in the “good soil” that is needed for the congregation to successfully take up the real challenges in the solutions you suggest.

The secular world copes much better with this dilemma because they have an easily identifiable “bottom line,” and a command-and-control management structure. These simply do not exist in the church. And it is fruitless to wish that it were otherwise.

I actually am trying real hard not to be gloomy, but that number “Zero” keeps looming up before me, and I am trying to be realistic. I wish there were more evidence that we are well equipped, organized for, and practiced at “playing it smarter.”

If my analysis is right, maybe if we all get gloomy enough, soon enough, something surprising might happen? But I have yet to see wide-spread evidence of that in enough congregations to stop being gloomy.

Cheers, sort of :),

David E
www.davidewart.ca

Stuart Lyster

David – I don’t think this will necessarily force their closure. It will, however, force an eventual focusing of priorities, which may involve a more efficient management of resources. At its simplest, the most efficient may be the sale of ‘overhead’, perhaps the building even if the building is ‘paying for itself, but robbing the energies of the congregation which might be better spent on more focused Christian program.

In seminary I read Hans Kung, “On being a Christian” where he argued that we always need to be mindful of the “Christian program.” Whereas a building, even with a C.E. wing designed for 1950’s style education, can be a net benefit to a congregation the first question is always – is it hindering or helping the main program of what it is we are about.

There are many, many alternatives to closure - selling and moving into schools may be one answer. The we can apply to interest to the capital gain to programming. Or we can enter into cooperative ventures with other non-profits who’ll share in the burden. We’re already done a bit of the ‘handing off the burden’ by farming out payroll to payroll services, and that is something we can do which is creative and doesn’t interfere with the core purpose of the church. I can see the day where a management company operates the building and the church community simply cuts one cheque per month for everything. (Unfortunately, many many men in the past saw their contribution to ‘church’ being the hands-on, building maintenance things and this may further alienate men from participation in the church’s project…. But I digress.)

There are many examples out in the secular world of how to deal with one’s overhead when the overhead becomes too much. “Forcing closure” is only one of many possibilities… yes we are asset rich and people poor, but that is not a negative. The church has to play it smarter, rather than play it gloomy.

Cheers,
Stuart

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