A New Church
Jun 26, 2019
An article by MNYS Vice-President Renée Wicklund
I bet you know these lyrics, or at least part of them:
The church of Christ, in every age beset by change, but Spirit-led,
must claim and test its heritage and keep on rising from the dead.
Across the world, across the street, the victims of injustice cry
for shelter and for bread to eat, and never live before they die.
[. . .]
We have no mission but to serve in full obedience to our Lord;
to care for all, without reserve, and spread His liberating word.
The Church of Christ, in Every Age, right? You can find it at ELW 729.
Maybe you’ve heard a statistic thrown around—I know I have—that, if our congregations continue to decline at the current rate, in 20 years this church will be gone. At our synod assembly, I repeated that, no matter what is coming our way, I’m actually not afraid of being “gone”:
Our synod is not going to disappear. It is true that there is a sunrise and a sunset for many congregations. But it is equally true that our synod, and the ELCA, are part of the one holy church universal and triumphant. And that means that we cannot fail. By definition, we will remain. If every Lutheran in New York walks out the doors and no one comes back in, if we lose every resource, if we are reduced to ashes, we will rise again. We are a church of resurrection.
And now I will admit the wider truth: I’m not only hopeful for the next 20 years. I’m excited. The way we’ve been doing church for the past few centuries isn’t working anymore. Expensive buildings, their doors closed except for Sunday-morning worship. Focusing on serving our own congregants. Relying on retirees. Pussyfooting around young people, lest we scare them with obligations. Numbers don’t lie: This way of operating no longer works, and circumstances are about to force us to come up with something radically new.
I don’t know what the radically new is going to look like. Some of our congregations have taken tentative steps toward innovation, such as inviting community-service groups into existing facilities, making rental arrangements, and leaving their building to bring church to streets, shelters, gathering places. Representatives to synod assembly in May were excited by our attorneys’ presentation on mission-driven development, especially plans for the projects already underway. And of course we have elected a new bishop, who brings his own plans.
We are standing on the precipice of a revisioning. We have to be. When the old ways no longer work, they must be abandoned. A snake sheds her skin, a hermit crab finds a new shell, a nation amends its constitution. These are scary processes, but they are natural and cyclical.
The church of Christ, in every age beset by change, but Spirit-led, must claim and test its heritage and keep on rising from the dead.
Metropolitan New York Synod is about to change. I can’t wait to see what the Holy Spirit has in store for us.
Are you excited too?