Walking to Worship
This is St. Giles (Presbyterian) Cathedral I walked about a mile and a half to this morning, passing at least 5 church buildings that are no longer used for worship (real estate company, English school, social hall, 2 of them empty) and most of the congregations I've visited on sabbatical have been very sparse in worship. There were about 200 at the 10:00 service at St. Giles- 20 in the choir and when the singing began strong and beautiful, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty..." I couldn't keep back the tears. I didn't realize I'd been mourning so near the surface the loss of a culture that treasures reasoning public faith. "Our North American and European culture is so daft as to believe that we can have "Spirit" without community(church)- it is as daft to believe that we can have spirit without body (we'd be dead)," said the Preacher. Music does release emotions; there are so many connections with past places and people. Our culture is going through a paradigm change; we can no longer see the cosmos as a mechanism set in place by an occasionally interventionist diety. Rather, we must embrace a God who works in and through even the largest scale (even alternative universes) as well as the smallest (evolution, quarks, the mysteries of the Spirit). Science regularly reveals "facts" that people earlier generations would have seen as unmitigated miracles. The pace of change has given impetus to people seeking fundementalist organizations which simply reject change by appealing to a static and relatively young understanding of our historic faith which doesn't require them to think critically or to endure many of the real ambiguities of living with rapid social change.
I totally disagree with those writers who contend that religion is obsolete and dangerous to humankind. An atheist attended a wedding and stopped to "chat up" the Pastor saying, "Just so you know, I don't believe in God." "I'm with you," said the preacher, "Tell me about the God you don't believe in and chances are I don't believe in that God either." I think that many people have rejected religion as they understand it, and that even really bad religion can actually help people to have a relationship with God. A truly open and generous community of faith is essential to the growth and health of spirituality- even if that community is found in a neighborhood pub instead of a neighborhood church. When we worship together, I hope that visitors (such as I was this morning) sense welcome and passion and joy at the heart of our faith. At the very least, we are living in a time when it is difficult to be a an open, welcoming, reasoning faith community but my heart breaks for the wonderful people in our community at large who have no faith family to sojourn with in this strange and awesome life. I thank God for you. John