The Church is Dying

“The church is dying.”

So said the organist of St. Paul’s Anglican Church. St. Paul’s, located in Lachine, Quebec, was the church of my youth. And it is an example of how quickly and dramatically the church has declined in just one generation.

St. Paul’s played a major role in my life as a child. Sunday services where I served in the choir and as an altar boy. Scouts. Youth Group. Worship bands. Confirmation. An active church community of well over 500 people.

St. Paul’s was also the church where my father’s memorial service was held. As I wandered through the church sanctuary, memories from that day entered my mind. I had just turned sixteen.

I remembered that just before the funeral service, while we were still at the funeral home, and while no one was looking, I placed a small wooden cross into my dead father’s casket. This cross was given to me by the Reverend of St. Paul’s on the day of my confirmation. My hope was that this cross would somehow help my father. That there would be a physical and ongoing link between him and I even though he was dead.

The lesson of the cross is for the living — not for the dead.

And perhaps the cross was removed before the casket made its way to St. Paul’s. I will never know. But the memory of that day still grips me with sadness and despair.

St. Paul’s was built in 1964. And the church sanctuary looks exactly as it did when I was there over 40 years ago. I have included a few photos that I took of the church earlier today.

As I was shooting the interior of the church, the organist came over and talked with me. What had once been a healthy and vibrant community of believers 40 years ago was now a community of fewer than 30 people. And, once they have passed away, there is no one to lead the next generation of believers at St. Paul’s.

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Digital Consoles for Church Sound

I read the following from Alectro Systems and I wholeheartedly agree. Unless a church is operating at a very large scale, digital consoles are just too sophisticated and too expensive for most small to medium-sized churches.

Although a wonderful ideal for user interfacing and audio organizing, digital consoles are simply not cost effective. A well-manufactured professional digital mixer, loaded with the necessary features, is just far too expensive. Due to this fact alone, a digital mixer should often be considered a last resort, and only if there is enough in the budget to pay the massive premium for a top-of-line console. There are exceptions to this rule though, as these mixers are greatly suited for large churches with huge worship teams and productions on Sundays, as well as throughout the week. In those venues, the cost factor becomes insignificant due to the fact that the benefits of a digital console become overwhelming. Those venues have a need for a massive number of inputs, and the ability to interact with them on a much more complex level; this is not the case with the remaining vast majority of churches. In almost every situation, an analogue mixer remains the best choice of consoles for a churches needs. They”™re straightforward, cheaper with far greater quality and features versus a digital console of the same price, and are much easier to teach others how to use – which in a church environment is an absolute necessity for the majority of those able to help with sound teams.

Via.

Without Substance

The National Post ran an interesting piece on Gretta Vosper. She just launched a book called With or Without God last week.

Vosper had a number of things to say about Christianity. She foresees a future where the label Christian will not exist. Her view is that the central story of Christianity will fade away and the story of Jesus as the symbol of everything that Christianity is will also fade away. Vosper does not believe in the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, miracles or that Jesus was the Son of God.

According to the article in the National Post, Vosper believes that Jesus was a middle eastern peasant with a few charismatic gifts and a great posthumous marketing team.

And what is Gretta Vosper”™s calling? She is a minister. At West Hill United Church. She chairs a group called the Canadian Centre For Progressive Christianity. Their mandate seems to be focused on challenging the church to do a complete overhaul of the beliefs it has been carrying for the last several hundred years. The gospel, it appears, needs revision. From the Progressive Christianity website:

Thinking ourselves forward to a sustainable future for all life on the planet (and isn’t that something we should be working toward?) requires that we allow our beliefs–all our beliefs–to be examined in the light of critical contemporary scholarship and understanding and, if they are found to be destructive, divisive, or simply unhelpful, to work toward opening ourselves to new ideas and the possibility of new beliefs.

The article in the Post was a full page with photo in the front section of the week-end paper. Likely a marketing move by the book publisher.

When I read the article, I reflected on the complete and utter lack of integrity being demonstrated by this person. I wondered how she reconciled her ministry in the United Church of Canada when she rejected several of their core tenets of faith. And I could not help but think that the Unitarians would be a better fit for her ministry.

Blind Faith

I read a book recently that provoked my thinking on blind faith. Claiming to believe in something without precisely defining what that something is, is close to believing nothing at all.

Stephen Prothero, author of Blind Faith, makes some interesting observations on the nature of religious literacy in the United States. I imagine a similar situation exists in Canada.

Prothero researched polls which found that roughly 75 percent of adults believe that the bible teaches God helps those who help themselves. Roughly 50 percent can only name one of the four Gospels. Only 50 percent can identify Genesis as being a book in the bible. And 10 percent think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.

You can take Prothero’s religious literacy quiz here. He also wrote a very thought provoking article in USA Today about whether the church is losing the millenial generation.

Simplify

I was reading Zen Habits yesterday. They had a post on how to simplify your life. Seventy-two ideas. Which merely confirms what I have always suspected about simplification. It is a very complex challenge to simplify. The Zen Habits approach:

It means getting rid of many of the things you do so you can spend time with people you love and do the things you love. It means getting rid of the clutter so you are left with only that which gives you value.

The major themes focused on managing objectives, managing time, managing consumption and managing activities. I do all of those things but my life is definitely not simple.

Twenty years ago, I developed a habit of breaking out personal objectives into six categories: Faith, Family, Finances, Fitness, Career and Self. Faith focused on the spiritual journey of life. Family focused on my wife and children. Finances focused on short and long term money goals. Fitness on personal health and well-being. Career on the professional journey. And self focused on personal development.

Each year, I take time to assess long term objectives and develop annual goals in each of the six categories for the current year. This was a discipline in my professional career from my early years and it was relatively easy to translate that discipline into my personal life.

Despite my best efforts, I find it almost impossible to narrow the field of focus. To simplify life to some level of balance. There is too much noise associated with participating in everyday life.

The work environment today is online and connected. With some very rare exceptions, I am online with work every morning, every afternoon and every evening of every day. Expectations are high and demands on time are high. The velocity of information has accelerated.

The digital age has also forced significant demands on personal time. Although it is a personal choice, maintaining a weblog, a photoblog, personal email accounts, and social networking also competes for limited time.

I have a pretty good system in place for managing money. Generally, it takes about an hour a week to update and review our finances.

I have always found it difficult to balance the demands of church within the context of faith. For many churches, an indication of commitment is generally associated with the time spent in service. I am usually serving in the studio on Saturdays and I usually spend 4 hours on Sunday serving. In my own experience with churches there is very little understanding or support for the challenges that face most working families in the GTA. During the week, I am lucky if I have three hours of discretionary time in a day. And half of that time is spent eating and preparing for the day.

So what suffers in all of this noise? Time for family. Time for fitness. Time for self. In theory, it seems like a good idea to simplify. To remove the unnecessary from our lives. To replace one set of activities with another. This was the message from our church on Sunday. However, the speaker made one rather naive assumption: that most people have lots of idle time.

I don”™t.

Church Sound Production

One of the most important support roles in progressive churches is the front of house sound mixer. The role is usually filled by volunteers with limited experience and training in audio engineering.

There are numerous resources available to help in the training of such volunteers. Berklee College of Music offers an online course on Church Sound Production and Curt Taipale offers a Church Sound Workshop in a Box. However, most churches would hesitate to make an investment of several hundred dollars to train their volunteers.

I have taught live sound to a number of churches over the years. Most volunteers seem very keen to learn and they often show a remarkable passion for audio.