I recently attended the Rural Ministry Conference held in Dubuque through Wartburg Seminary of Theology and Land. The conference this year was geared toward pastoral care and dealing with the growing number of mental health issues that rural congregations are facing with fewer resources to offer adequate help to individuals and families (it’s a great conference that I highly recommend!). Outside of that topic one of our keynotes touched on caring for the ‘nones’ and ‘dones’ that are in our communities.
These folks do not consider themselves to be atheist. In a very limited nutshell ‘nones’ are those that have no background in faith but are pretty sure that there is something holy out there. ‘Dones’ are those that have been in the faith but for various reasons are done with organized religion, yet still hold the belief that there is something holy out there.
The question that sits with me in thinking of the growing number of ‘nones’ and ‘dones’ is how, if it’s possible even, is the church relevant? With so many articles and blogs and statistics showing us the decline of mainline protestant churches, dwindling church membership and even the decrease in folks claiming to be affiliated with a church we are faced with the question: ‘why would folks give up their ‘freedom’ of individualized religion and self scheduling for the Holy by joining a church—or even staying an active member of church?’
We give up nothing when we join the church, remain active in the church, care about the church. The church is what makes us more than simply a group of folks meddling in the affairs of the world in the name of God. Or seven groups. Or fifty. The church is what holds us together, a stated set of beliefs that bind us all; whether we agree on them all or not. The church gives us a single thread running through every Christian, living or dead back to the first few that gathered.
I will be bold here and even say that it’s not God but the church that makes us Christians.
I say that because anybody can believe in a divine being, a greater power, something that influences the world in ways that we can only imagine.
But the church turns us toward the unifying goal of making a difference in the world that we live in based on our belief in that divine being. It is a place for us to learn how to be sacramental in our living because each and every one of us might be the only sacrament that another person we encounter might experience in their life…and that is a powerful thing to be.
Sure we’ve had a rocky past, we even have a pretty turbulent present but the church is meant to be a place where the most prestigious, the most poor, the most devious, the most unsure, the most of any category of person you can think of can go and be safe, forgiven, loved even and show the world the idea of holiness that we place on God.
The church is what it is to be Christian, the heart of being Christian. Throw that on the rubbish heap and we’ll be sand washing away in the tide. Give up? No, we gain when we become Christians…Christians that believe in the Church (the people and what we do, not just the building and what we have) is as Curtis Farr states in his article Why the Secular Age is Good for the Church, ‘all about creating community, sensing the sacred, working for justice, and making meaning, but we are also about pointing toward a transcendent reality that sustains and provides grounds for the importance of the whole cosmos.’ So let’s get at being the church already!
—Pastor Samantha Houser, Waukon Zion UCC, and Iowa Conference Program Support/Adjunct for Youth Ministry