Saturday, July 20, 2013

Jesus was homeless. . . wasn't he?

'Survival' of United Church not a priority

(Blogger's note. I was a longtime, active member of the United Church until a sense of alienation drove me away a few years ago. The National Post article below (describing churches scrambling frantically to survive financial hardship) scored a direct hit. During my 15 years as a committed member, I saw churches trying to maintain cavernous old buildings, in dire debt because they couldn't make their mortgage payments. I saw them grabbing people practically as they walked in the door to join committees, shaming people if they couldn't or wouldn't tithe (often actively questioning their commitment if they felt their money was better spent giving directly to charities), and even driving away people who were contributing in a way that was outside the box. Such interlopers made everyone uneasy, as they seemed to be saying: look, guys, the old ways aren't working any more. What can we do that's new? 

So today I found this article online which was written SIX YEARS AGO. I wonder what has changed. Probably not much. Members are still probably sitting through endless annual meetings in which the main subject is financial doom and the reprehensible lack of members' commitment which has brought it about. I remember the gloomy, depressed feeling hanging over us as we left these meetings, shamed into believing we were letting our church down and even letting the United Church die because we didn't care.

Though everything in our culture has changed  so radically that it is practically unrecognizable, the United Church expects to go on operating in the same way it did in the 1950s. Why doesn't it work any more? Can you guess? But shame isn't the answer, nor is panic, scrambling to get the old ways back, or bitterness and gloom.

Ask yourself: how many churches did Jesus build? Only one, and it has no walls.)

By National Post October 13, 2007 

The leader of the United Church of Canada says his Church is too "preoccupied" with protecting its buildings, counting its money and recruiting members, and should instead devote its energies to helping the poor, the hungry and the sick beyond its walls.

Reverend David Giuliano, the Moderator, or spiritual head, of one of Canada's largest Protestant churches, has sent a letter to United Church congregations across the country, urging them to worry less about "buildings and budgets" and become more concerned about the "suffering of the world around us."

"Our hope is not for our survival or even growth," Rev. Giuliano writes. "I am praying that our preoccupation with getting people into church is transformed by a passion for getting the church out into the world.

"I am praying that we welcome strangers with a radical hospitality that sees in them the face of Christ -- not an 'identifiable giver' or a 'potential committee member.' "

Rev. Giuliano's plea comes in the midst of a difficult period for the Church and its roughly 600,000 members. Along with other mainstream Christian denominations, the United Church of Canada is experiencing a long decline in national membership; its congregational lists fell 39% between 1961 and 2001.

In July, the Church announced program cuts and layoffs at its national headquarters in Toronto due to financial pressures -- including the closure of its audiovisual production office and the cancellation of its award-winning current affairs television pro-gram Spirit Connection, which will air for the last time on Vision TV on Dec. 30.

In an interview this week Rev. Giuliano acknowledged, "There's a lot of anxiety in the Church about our institution --about money and numbers."

He said the Church, which once boasted more than a million active adherents, was for many generations a source of cultural and social authority in Protestant Canada.

"Many of us are reluctant to give up [that authority]--even if it doesn't really exist today --but I see the change as liberating, because we don't have to hold on to that any more."

"Jesus's followers were not a huge group of people, and they were not prosperous," he said.

"The measurement of a faithful community cannot be in its numbers."

Rev. Giuliano said that as one example of the Church's preoccupation with survival, too much money is spent maintaining Church buildings that serve little purpose other than to shelter a declining group of worshippers once a week.

"I think we have too much property," he said. "We have places where we have three United Churches within three blocks of each other."

He applauded one of the country's oldest congregations, First United Church in Ottawa, which sold its old building last year and now leases meeting and programming space from a nearby Anglican Church.

Rev. Giuliano likened the Church institution to a treasured car that a proud owner might keep in their driveway.

"The Church is a vehicle intended to get us somewhere. If you keep it fixed and washed and waxed but you don't ever take it anywhere, it doesn't have much purpose," he said.

"If what we do is ask the question, 'How do we get big or even survive,' I think we've lost our way," he said. "For me, the real question is, 'What does it mean to be faithful?' "

© (c) CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.

(Post-blog. I can hear the protests now. But it won't work. It won't work. Whether we like it or not, the world runs on money and it can't be any other way. End of discussion.

Show me ONE organization that has survived for more than a couple of years without significant financial support from its membership?

I have one, and it has many branches and exists in many forms. It was started in the 1930s because a doctor and a stockbroker couldn't stay sober. But together, with mutual insight and support, they found that they could. No one told them that survival without money was impossible, so they survived. They did more than survive: their tiny church of two became the most successful worldwide self-help organization in human history. And all this with no dues or fees, so that NO ONE would be excluded.

Maybe just a little bit closer to what Jesus had in mind.)

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