Scott Benhase, Bishop of Georgia, writes in Call and Response about churches and says that instead of grieving our loss of cultural influence, congregations can be places where real life is met and lived.
Historically in our culture people turned to St. Augustine to read about a life well-examined and well-lived. Then at some point Holden Caulfield became a more popular source for meaningful introspection and living. It is an irony of our time that St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, is a real person while Holden Caulfield is the fictional creation of J.D. Salinger. “So it goes,” to borrow from Kurt Vonnegut.
But the irony is deeper than that. For many people today, church is the last place they look for truth, beauty and meaning. There are many reasons for that. We could debate why people don’t seek the church as a source for what is “really real” in life. I bet we would have substantial data to support both our contentions for why this is so and we would both be right for the most part.
However interesting that would be, I don’t believe it would do anything other than further bemoan the church’s loss of influence.
What if we instead called people to a “real life,” as St Augustine sees it? What might people need to experience in church for that to happen? Here are some helpful questions for such a call.
When people enter our churches do they experience hope? Do they sense the possibility of a new and different life? In biblical language: Do they get a glimpse of the “holy city”? Do they get an inkling of what God has intended all along for creation? Do they experience in worship grace and beauty, finding themselves drawn into the very life of Jesus? Does this worship gladden their hearts? Does it open their eyes to see God’s action in the world? At the exchange of “the peace” or at “coffee hour,” do they sense among us real humility, gentleness and love?