Sunday Morning Blues

 It’s been a very different summer in my household. My wife is a Pastor, and  has just ended a (twice-postponed, but much needed!) sabbatical. I am a member  of the church she pastors, but it was obviously right for me not to set foot there  during this time; they had work to do while she was away. So what to do on  Sunday morning? I haven’t felt motivated to mask up and go to another church,  even though church on Sunday is a lifelong habit. In the end, in the three months  from June to August, I have only worshiped in church once; that was with friends in  the parish church on Lindisfarne. There was also one time I worshiped on line with  my family in their church.  

 Now here’s the thing: I haven’t missed going to church on Sunday, except for  taking communion. That astonishes me, but it’s true. When I hear of the tens of  thousands who have not returned to church after the COVID shutdown, I’m with  them. The question for me is WHY? Why is going to church on a Sunday morning,  the bread-and-butter of our walk with God for centuries, no longer helpful for so  many of us? It doesn’t feel like my walk with God has withered. Here are my  conclusions so far. Some of them will probably not be true of your church, in which  case, count yourself blessed. Join me to figure out what ‘works’ or not, not only for  you but for the generations below you. If you disagree, let me know why. I’ll just  pick out three big problems, as I see them.  

How we worship is a huge part of the problem. It’s 2022, but we still sit in  orderly ranks of pews (or chairs – no practical difference) looking at the backs of  others’ necks, while one designated man or woman does nearly all the talking. One  name for that individual is a real giveaway: “Parson,” an old title which means they  are the only ‘person’ who truly matters. So here we are in this out-of-date  arrangement, and we try to cram all our encounter of God into that one ‘holy’ hour:  worship, praise, intercession, teaching, even announcements (which in some  churches can easily take up five or ten minutes of it). Many of us set other time  aside for God during the week, either alone or with others, but if we don’t, what  chance does the good news of the gospel, with its demand for a highly ‘against the  grain’ way of living, have to become ingrained behavior? The other 167 hours of the  week we are bombarded with contrary thoughts from the news, social media, TV  and radio, advertising, work expectations, you name it . . . .  

 You can probably list other outdated features of this ‘holy hour.’ The way we  do teaching does not match up with our 21st century learning style, although more  churches are now using PowerPoint and other visuals. The music works for me, but  not for most of the under-50s, and that is not just a matter of organ versus guitars.  In fact, in the churches that are most likely to use guitars, keyboards and drums, 

the music is often led by performers (!) playing to an audience (!) with songs  designed to evoke a sort of ‘sugar high’ in worship.  

 My next problem is with Churches that make you choose. Are you evangelical  (that is, focused on the written word, and the need for a personal encounter with  God)? Are you catholic (you love sacraments, and a faith in which ‘the Word  becomes flesh’)? Maybe charismatic (you worship, pray and reach out in the power  of the Spirit)? Do you respond to the call to serve among the poor and work for  social justice? Or do you find God in creation as well as scripture? The early church  was all of those things, as were, at their best, the churches of the early British  saints who inspire us in the Community of Aidan and Hilda. What has always drawn  me most to this Community was that here I found all these essential pieces of the  faith together. “But,” protested my wife, “No church is like that.” My point exactly.  

 Another problem with church-as-we-have-known-it is the lack of true  fellowship. What is called ‘fellowship’ may not extend much beyond coffee and  cookies after worship, plus activities needed to keep “the wheels on the bus going  round and round.” True fellowship and brotherly/sisterly love as seen in the church  in Acts is the exception. A quick test: how easy would it be for you to ask to borrow  a fellow member’s car, or even hedge trimmer? How would they react if you offered  the use of yours? To whom, other than hopefully your pastor or priest, could you  confide your deepest thoughts and doubts?  

 Newcomers often leave a church after a while because they don’t make any  real friends there. They don’t know how to break in to the circles of friends in the  church, and those in the circles don’t know how to break open their surrounding  ‘hedges,’ and may not even be aware the hedges are there. This is more and more  important now, as we live in an age in which those in Western society are feeling  more and more alone. “In his book, Social, Matthew Lieberman reports on a survey  of people’s social connections that was done in 1985 and again in 2004. People  were asked to list their friends in response to the question “Over the last six  months, who are the people with whom you discussed matters important to you?”  In 1985, the most common number of friends listed was three; 59 percent of  respondents listed three or more friends fitting this description. But by 2004, the  most common number of friends with whom you would discuss important matters  was zero. And only 37 percent of respondents listed three or more friends. Back in  1985, only 10 percent indicated that they had zero confidants. In 2004, this  number had skyrocketed to 25 percent. As Lieberman says, “One out of every four  of us is walking around with no one to share our lives with.” [Article “The Lonely  Church : Churches dying due to Friendlessness,” by Mike Frost in ‘Church Leaders’  blog site, January 8th, 2022.] True friendship has only become more rare since  2004. 

 In the Community of Aidan and Hilda we have always resolved to accept  people from all different churches as we journey together in dispersed community.  Is the day coming when some will not belong to any local church, and will draw  support for their worship, fellowship and mission solely from the Community? How  will we react to that change? How can we support each other as our local churches  fail us?

Paul Martin (Long Voyager), St. Louis Park, MN –Explorer Guide, Regional Guardian.

For more information contact Paul Martin at this email:

Submitted by Mark Condy – Pilgrim CofA&H


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