What to do? I think we all ask that question at various times in our lives, whether it be about our relationships or jobs. I know I have wrestled with that conundrum. Is this job or friendship worth the grief? Do I keep plugging away even though the energy required to keep it working seems lopsided? Can this situation be turned around? Do I keep hoping and invoking St. Jude (The Patron Saint of Loss Causes) to some how make it work?
Just Google quotes on hope and you’ll find words, lots of words from saints & presidents and leaders of major corporations, to those that are anonymous armchair philosophers. Depending on your mood and point of view on any given day, these quotes will strike you as words of wisdom or simply platitudes that have no heft. Where there is hope there is a chance to things to turn around. If you don’t have a dream, you have no hope or vision. Sow hope in despair. With faith all things are possible.
Then there are the words of Kenny Rogers.
“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em.
Know when to walk away. Know when to run.”
I am not a card-carrying member of the Kenny Rogers fan club. Truth be told I have umpteen recordings of Bach and none of Kenny. But the lyrics to ‘The Gambler’ actually did give me inspiration to leave a lucrative music gig. I was struggling with a decision of whether or not to give up a church job that looked great on paper. Seriously, it had everything on my wish list but for reasons that will probably appear on another blog post I was unhappy and needed to fold, walk away and run. Which I did.
This brings me to bishops, clergy and congregations asking the same question. What to do? They are dealing with the hard realities of diminishing congregations . I played the organ for one church’s deconsecration service and have attended others. It doesn’t matter the denomination, Baptist, United or Anglican. In one month I played for congregations of 8, 40 and 200. It has been a very long time since I have seen a packed church, other than for a choir concert or funeral. Many people simply don’t go any more. There are other things to do on a Sunday morning from going for walks in the park to updating Facebook statuses. For some people, the doctrine that one grew up with seems outdated like Mr. Roger’s sweater.
I admire clergy that continue to preach to their congregations with enthusiasm, regardless of the size. I admire the parishioners that attend Sunday worship and feel that church is important and has a place in their spiritual journey. For many that attend it is because they want to be part of a loving, supportive community. I believe that Christianity still has relevance in this contemporary world. The question is – How do we re-imagine our churches so that they can be relevant in people’s lives? Churches may never pack them in like they did 50 years ago, or like you see in episodes of The Simpsons. But I think that the church is people, not buildings. That for St. Jude, people are not a lost cause. Buildings sometimes are and that’s when Kenny Rogers comes in.