There is an article on the front page of today's Washington Post titled "In Major Poll, U.S. Religious Identity Appears Very Slippery." The article is about recent research done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. According to the Pew research, some 40 percent of the individuals polled have changed their religion. Only one in six individuals still belongs to the church or denomination of their childhood. Some 24 percent of individuals polled are individuals who were Catholic in the past but who are no longer. And, the percentage of individuals who claim to be Protestant is now 51 percent.
The church is slipping away. The Christian church is having a hard time holding on to its members. While my parent's generation rarely changed jobs or religious affiliation, there is something about other generations that yearn for or even demand change. And while many people my age fall into this category of wanting change, I believe that the church cannot simply say, "Oh, it's just this generation." It is time for the church to wake up and start being the church once again.
My father was raised in the United Methodist Church. He comes from a long line of United Methodists. Everyone in the family is buried next to a United Methodist Church. Most people have been married in a United Methodist Church. The only church my father ever knew was the United Methodist Church...until my parents went through a painful divorce after twenty-three years of marriage. When my dad was going through the divorce, he was in a new apartment in a new community. My sister and I were not speaking to him. He was alone in many ways. And, he went to church - to the United Methodist Church - in his new community hoping to find community and support. No one spoke to him on the day he visited, however. No one reached out to him or welcomed him. He went to another church the next week, and he is now a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination.
My mother was raised in the United Methodist Church. Her father was a United Methodist minister. Her mother was a lover of the United Methodist Church. My mother has faithfully supported the United Methodist Church all of her life...until about three years ago. A new pastor came to town with little passion or energy. Mother was no longer being fed in worship. She stopped going to the church for a while, and no one reached out to her. The pastor never called to ask why she stopped coming to worship. Mother found a new church home in a Pentecostal church down the street. The church is led by a dynamic pastor and the worship is filled with passion, especially when it comes to music. My mother has a faith now that is stronger than I have ever seen it.
The Methodist Church has lost both of my parents - lifelong Methodists.
Most of my friends no longer go to church. While it seems as though we were all raised in the church, many of my peers have discovered more meaningful things to do with their Sunday mornings even if it is just catching up with household chores. If you walk through many neighborhoods of this city on a Sunday morning, you wonder if anyone goes to church. And, still, I don't see many churches making the changes necessary to bring new people in.
My beloved United Methodist Church has spent millions on a marketing campaign called, "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors." Yet, all the while the church has argued over who can come inside. There are still numerous churches who remain closed to people who do not look or act right. There are still too many churches who have not opened the doors wide enough - especially to the poor, the outcast, the gay and lesbian community, and the list goes on and on.
The Catholic Church has lost the most members according to the Pew research. Many people have turned their back on the Catholic Church in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse scandals. Still, the Catholic Church has not made any changes on how to ensure that this abuse does not happen again. The Church continues to refuse to ordain women or allow men to marry.
The church I serve is surrounded by young people. We have people in their twentys and thirtys all around us. Still, there has been an unwillingness for a long time to try new things. As we prepare to move back into our historic building in July, there is more talk amongst our older members about bringing back what used to be - even though the programs were not reaching new people - than talk about what can be. This slope is the slippery slope on which many of our churches appear to be walking.
I love the church. I love Jesus. I believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ still has the power to transform lives - that there is hope offered through this Gospel that gives us strength for today and promises for tomorrow. I believe that the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus Christ is the very kingdom we hunger and thirst for today - it is the kind of kingdom being promised in the rhetoric being espoused by our political candidates - a kind of place where all people are being cared for. And, I love this church - Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church.
So, if you are one of the many people out there looking for a new church, a new denomination, or a new community, let me tell you why I believe in this particular church:
1) You are invited to come just as you are. In last week's worship service, we had people in their very best suits and people in jogging suits. We do not care what you wear. Come just as you are. You are welcome here.
2) I do not care what you believe or what you do not believe. I do not care who you love or who you have failed to love. I do not want to know what you have done or what you have failed to do. You are welcome here.
3) We are part of a denomination that has long joined faith with service. From its very beginning, the Methodist Church has sent people out into the world to serve. We are trying hard to not keep our faith confined to a Sunday morning. Instead, we are trying hard to serve this community - in small ways right now - but in ways that we hope are faithful.
4) We have this amazing group of individuals that range in age from 1 - 100. Many of our most active members are people who have been in Washington since "the war" - since 1940. They are amazing! They make me laugh often. They teach me about life all of the time. When you combine this uncanny group of people with the newcomers - a wonderful group of young adults - then you have a fantastic community of faith.
5) We have learned a lot about what it means to be the church when we do not have a church building right now. The church has nothing to do right now with a glorious sanctuary or stained glass windows. The church is the people. And, the church must be the church. We must exist for the transformation of the world.
The church is far from perfect. We have to remember that the rock on which Jesus built the church was a man named Peter who seemed to be filled with more doubt than faith. Still, the church has so much potential. The church has so much to offer.
Good God, come and give us the courage to make the changes necessary to stop this slipper slope!