First of all, a disclaimer. This post is in no way suggesting that Church (note the big ‘C’) is over and that we should all just leave it behind to sail off on our own individualised spiritual journeys. I don’t believe that. Fantastic things still happen in Church. Peoples lives are turned around. They dedicate themselves to serving others. Not to mention (a variation on an old cliché) the fact that some of my best friends are Church goers. Some are Church leaders.
But I no longer attend Church. By which I mean that I no longer attend formal Sunday services in a building called ‘Church’ and no longer commit myself to the service and maintenance of an institution called ‘Church’. I am far from alone. I know this to be the case anecdotally, as I am met many others who are like me. There is also considerable research suggesting that there are many others like me too- we even have a name: the dechurched. It is not a new trend either- this term was coined back in the nineties.
What is more difficult to evidence however is the degree to which an active life of faith continues beyond Church. If this faith is to be meaningful, how is it ‘practiced’? What meaning do people find and what processes and exchanges help them to find it?
By illustration, many years ago someone told Michaela this story;
There was once a grand cruise liner that criss-crossed the ocean in grand style. It was a well run ship, with a crew who knew how to keep everything orderly and ship-shape. The liner ran to set schedules, calling in at ports according to the season’s demands. Entertainment was on hand in the evenings and fine food was prepared in the ship’s galleys. All the passengers needs were catered for.
Over time however, some of the passengers began to feel troubled. They watched the ship passage past exotic places and wondered why they could not go there. They began to long for a different adventure.
They started by speaking to the captain and the crew, looking for changes, but it can be hard to turn around a ship at sea. Some of the crew became angry and relationships soured. Eventually a few of the passengers decided that they were going to get off the ship.
So they climbed down the sides of the tall liner into a small boat and hoisted their sail, unsure of which way to go and where the winds would lead them. As they waved goodbye to their companions on the ship, a voice was heard shouting after them;
“But what about the children? Whatever will happen to the children?”
The question remains then, how do those of us who have left Church still church? Or have we all given up, just sold out to a consumer-driven, me-first, pick-and-mix spirituality that is all about self fulfilment? (It might be worth checking out these posts which debated this very issue. Part 2. Part 3.)
Well, my own imperfect, hopeless/hopeful journey through church beyond Church continues. I am part of a small group of families who meet regularly to share a table. I am increasingly grateful for friends at a distance whom I can meet with less frequently to share our spiritual lives. I continue to search for a life that means something and gives more than it grabs. I continue to consider myself a follower after Jesus.
I had a discussion recently with one of those ‘friends at a distance’ I mentioned earlier. We are both in our own small boats (to extend the analogy made earlier). Both of us have a background as Church ‘agitators’ and activists. Both of us now find ourselves outside. We reflected on how much it meant to both of us to meet and share lives and to start to dream again of new horizons.
We reflected on the fact that, here in Scotland at least, there was very little that could be regarded as supportive of those of us who were dechurched, or postChurched. Our small boats sometimes felt very small indeed.
We started to wonder whether there was some way that we could connect with others who were like us; to share experiences, suggestions of what we have found helpful; sharing what practices have allowed us to connect again with the spirit of God. Because we are dreamers, we wanted to dream again. We wanted to meet other dreamers and dream bigger dreams.
We also asked questions about the times we live in, the context we find ourselves in; deeply uncomfortable with the consumer capitalist economy that we seem to do little else but participate in, despite the fact that enslaves half the world in poverty and is destroying the world we live in. Surely, we thought, if a life of faith was to be relevant at all, it had to start by engaging with this reality? It has to challenge us towards a better way of living, collectively and individually?
Perhaps these words resonate with you.
If so, perhaps you might be interested in continuing the debate.
We are seeking to connect up some of the small boats that sail in Scottish waters.
Not because we are wanting to build ships, but rather to share stories of places we have been…
…and what became of the children.
We are wondering whether we can find a small harbour to linger together for a while, because messages sent from distance are so much less satisfying that a shared landfall.
If you are interested, please get in touch…
Agreed Chris, from someone who still goes to Church but wonders why, caught up in the doing for doings sake. Asking the question am I ‘doing’ this because it’s God’s will for me or, which is more likely, I fill the gap because no one else can or is willing and I just happen to have the ability.