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.