This afternoon I had back-to-back appointments that painted the present situation of the mainline Protestant church in North America with startling clarity. I’ll describe them in the opposite order from the order in which they happened.
A funeral planning meeting with the family of a person who taught for 38 years at the local high school and joined our congregation shortly after arriving in town during the 1960’s. The family fondly recalled the high value this person placed on church participation. “You didn’t have a choice,” one of them said. “You had to go to church.” This person led family camps, taught Sunday School, and treated the church as an extension of her own family, all, to hear her family tell it, was to the great benefit to them and church.
But also a lunch with a young professional in the congregation who has moved back into the area several years after attending high school here and participating in all of the high school youth group activities. He’s raising a family here now and working hard to succeed at his job. His spouse, too, is working hard to succeed at her job. He’s exhausted. The faith he confirmed in high school doesn’t resonate anymore. And the community of the church that so sustained the person described above? Mostly it doesn’t look like him. It doesn’t know how to engage him without requiring more work of him.
The community of the first person isn’t equipped to care for and engage the faith of the second person.
What’s to be done?