The church faithful drop their chin to chest and, shake their head heavy with grief and frustration, while recounting how schools and traveling sports teams schedule practices and even games on Sunday morning, preventing young people from attending worship and Sunday school. “NOTHING used to be scheduled on Sunday morning!” they exclaim. “EVERYONE went to church!”
Even in small town Iowa (where I spent a lot of time), the church may still enjoy its cultural centrality a little more than in urban areas, but it’s clear that the Mainline Protestant church has lost the battle for Sunday morning, if not the entire war. On the occasional Sunday mornings when I don’t go to church, I like to walk around the neighborhood and observe what people ARE doing. What I see is people doing mundane things — yard and house work, sleeping in late, making breakfast with their family. Sports events are not the only thing to account for the lack of Sunday church attendance.
The reality is that for a short time in the 1950s and 1960s, the mainline church enjoyed being the center of culture in the United States. Being a good citizen was paramount in post-World War II culture and being a good citizen meant going to church. Church was where people met their friends and their spouses. They brought their families to church for all the major life transitions — weddings, baptisms and funerals.
The grief, I suspect, is not about the loss of cultural power. It’s the loss of importance of and respect for an institution that a generation of people spent a lifetime building. It can’t be easy to watch something you’ve spent a lifetime seemingly dissolve into inconsequence.
As Lutheran Pastor Keith Anderson writes in his blog post, “Culture Isn’t Killing the Church. Grief Is,” the grief the church faithful feel at this loss is preventing the church from engaging the culture in which we find young people. We’ll miss new generations entirely if we insist on hanging back and yearning for a time that will never come again. We lose the opportunity to listen to where younger generations experience God. We lose the opportunity to tell our own stories of where God has worked in our lives.
I challenge you to use Lent as a time to grieve this loss and adopt new practices that will build relationship between generations. This second week of Lent, let’s focus on letting go of the grief so that we may fully embrace the possibilities of Easter. Lent is a time that embraces lament — a kind of holy fist-shaking when we can wail and moan at God, making room for God’s comfort and, eventually, joy.
On the Worship Resources section of this blog, you’ll find prayers and conversation starters that can be used along with Psalm 27 (found year C in the Revised Common Lectionary on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013).