June 1, 2015

Saving the Church: By Our Actions

A few years ago I started to worry a lot about climate change. Reading more about it wasn’t helping (this article in Rolling Stone magazine was particularly motivating). The only thing I could find to assuage some of my worry and anxiety was to find a way to take some meaningful action.

So I went to a meeting of the New York chapter of 350.org, a grassroots organization founded by Bill McKibben, working to stop or at least mitigate climate change. I volunteered to hand out flyers and to help plan events. It was in these meetings and that I learned more about climate change and about some possible solutions.

Sometimes, I think, solutions arise from careful planning and reading and writing and sometimes they arise from simply jumping right in and trying things out. I didn’t make a plan or evaluate all the options. I just went out and volunteered to do something.

As we’ve been hearing lately, the Episcopal Church, like many churches, is facing declining membership numbers. Many of us are wondering what the church will look like for future generations.

I don’t think the solution to church vitality lie in theological statements or inspiring blog posts. Of course, these are good and useful. I’m glad there are theologians out there thinking through what we’re doing, but another thing the climate crisis has taught us is that being right isn’t enough to win people over or spur them to action. Preaching the best theology isn’t going to grow the church. The right words and the best arguments aren’t what change the world.

The rest of the world does not care much about our strategies and visions and theologies. The rest of the world cares about what we are doing in the lives of other human beings. 

Words matter a lot. As a writer I certainly won’t deny that. Planning is a necessary part of effective action. There are times to slow down so we can get our theology in order, but maybe now isn’t one of those times. Now may be the time that we try church around a dinner table, in Laundromats, or on the streets, as many are already doing. It’s important that we continue to march with people who insist that black lives matter, we speak to our politicians and insist that they do not abandon future generations to the ravages of climate change, we give food to the hungry and housing to the homeless. 

We’ll find our new vision of the church when we try things out. We’ll test out new ways of doing church and just as we test out new sources of energy. The solutions won’t come to us as we try to come up with a better theology and strategic plan, but as we go out into the world and try to save it.

Don't miss a blog post! Subscribe via email or RSS, using the grey box on the upper right.