Dying Congregation [part 1]

When I think of the Church building I went to growing up I don’t get just one image. A series of memories flash around in my head. I remember Sunday School programs when the pews would be absolutely filled with people watching us kids be (let’s face it) adorable. I remember my confirmation/first communion in middle school. All the adults made a huge deal about that day–saying I was taking a giant step in my faith. Truth be told, all I could think about was how salty the bread was- hard to chew. I didn’t feel my faith growing. I wanted it to. I kept waiting for growth to happen. I constantly asked questions about it–because I wanted to know more, wanted to do things right, and I wanted to understand. I remember in high school thinking the pews used to have a lot more people in them–and there used to be more kids. When I came home from college to visit I knew fewer and fewer faces.

Growing up with the church I used to hear the phrase “Dying Congregation.” The phrase was intensely confusing. Who’s dying? Why are they dying? Oh, wait, people aren’t dying…their souls are dying…because they’re not coming to church anymore. It was explained to me that some congregations ‘die’ because the people dont’ really believe in Jesus. Because they don’t believe in Jesus, it become less important to come to church.

Like this whole scenario–I’m discovering a lot of things that used to make sense to me just don’t fit in their old shells.

Living things–organisms, people–they die for many reasons. Lack of nutrients. Too much water/not enough water. A big storm. Accidents. Things give out. This world is finite. We are not meant to last. But many people (human and finite as we are) coming together for an (let’s call it) eternal purpose–how can this die? How could this give up or wear out?

It’s discouraging, disheartening and frustrating. We see people–our fellow humans, brothers and sisters on this journey–with so much to offer–and they seem to feel like there’s nothing left.

Trying to awaken passion that has been slumbering for decades is impossible. But this, I feel, is our calling.

For too long we have been telling one another this world is not that great–and that heaven is so much better. Let’s just settle in and ride out the rest of our life here, and wait for what’s coming.
For too long we’ve let our humanity lay dormant–because we are saints meant for Holy Living.

The time has come for the sleepers to arise. The time has come for passions to burn, for humanity to take hold of its skin and sweat and bleed to heal a not-yet perfect world. It’s time for saints to recognize that holy living happens when heaven breaks through into this world, when we hold the pain of some else–in our own two broken hands.

The Church cannot die. But we can. We can lose hope and meaning and desire to daily live our lives in the Presence of God, and to make this presence known. But blessed are the peacemakers and the merciful. Blessed are the ones who continue to breathe life into others when their lungs have forgotten how to taste the air.

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