Ideal and Reality of Church

I go to church a lot. That seems to be a basic shaping factor of my life these days.

There’s morning prayer with the Episcopalians, daily ecumenical worship with other divinity students, and a variety of denominational worship opportunities in the evenings. That’s just on the Divinity School campus during the week. There’s a plethora of churches in New Haven and worship opportunities in other parts of the university. On top of that, I have been traveling on the weekends to various churches that supported me while I was in South Africa, preaching and showing pictures.

There’s an interesting contrast. At the Divinity School, the worship is fantastic. I often gently poke fun at people who think so much about liturgy but the fruits of that effort are on display every day and in every service. The music is also amazing. It’s led by talented people and everyone who is there wants to sing, which is a far cry from most Sunday services I’ve ever been too. Yale Divinity School attracts some great preachers, some of the best in the world, and they are a highlight of every service.

Down the hill – that is, at places other than YDS – the picture is a little different. Pews are empty. Huge, beautiful churches that I’m sure were once packed full are now a quarter or less full. People don’t like to sing or they sing softly. So many of the churches I visit, it seems, are in some kind of financial difficulty and I hear stories of many more. This is the reality of the church these days, especially the mainline Protestant ones. People just don’t seem to show up.

For people preparing for careers in ordained ministry, I think the services at YDS can lull us into a false sense of what the church is. If all I knew of church was what I saw at YDS, I’d be a lot more inclined to devote my life to the church. So I’m grateful for the balance in perspective I receive on my weekend travels.

Where is the church going and what will it look like when my fellow students are its leaders? By traditional measures, it doesn’t seem like it’s going on a successful trajectory.

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4 thoughts on “Ideal and Reality of Church

  1. Caitlin Dawe

    Very interesting. Just wondering if you have any thoughts on where church might be headed? I know that’s a tough question, but perhaps you have some ideas about what can change?

  2. Heidi

    Maybe church should be more like YDS worship? Have you heard of the “Emergent Church”? In some ways, it’s the “newest” thing in the church world, but there’s some interesting stuff out there. Check out apostleschurch.org. The Northeast and Northwest especially seem in need of new models of worship, church, and Christian ed.

    1. I know what you mean. I also have had a very difficult time fnndiig a church. Just like you, I want to FEEL that peaceful feeling when I find it. Out of the churches we have visited, I feel uncomfortable and vulnerable….its so hard to explain. We are still looking though. When we visit a new church, we always go two or three times just to make sure that it is not just because we dont know anyone. I know that God will direct us to the right church and we will find that ‘home’ feeling. Kim

  3. Pingback: What to do with all the old churches? « Mission Minded

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