Today marks the 89th anniversary of the United Church of Canada, a venerable denomination that has offered so much to this country since its inception in 1925. However, at 89 we are showing definite signs of age, moving into the category of "old old." Following Pentecost Sunday when we read and sang about the young having their visions and the old dreaming dreams we are attempting to find a new way as Christ's people.
In the latest United Church Observer Rev. Chris White responded to a question about church closures in recent years. He spoke with the head statistician for the United Church (how many do we have?!) who informed him that the decline has averaged 50 to 70 over the past decade, a statistic we hear often these days as "one a week." What surprised me is that on average the United Church has experienced a steady decline since the 1930's. In 1930 the United Church had just over 7,600 preaching places and the number now hovers around 3,000. During that time the Canadian population has more than tripled.
In the first decade of the 21st century attendance in the United Church declined by 37% and in that same time span we lost 350 rural preaching places, 174 in towns and cities, and 21 in the burbs. Yikes.
As I read all this it strikes me that here at Bridge St. UC we are "normal" in the decline we have experienced. The stats fit our reality as a downtown congregation in a society that is less churchy all the time.
What I pray is that we find the ways to be "abnormal" in our witness and mission, to discover other ways for effective United Church ministry despite the trends. I am convinced that we must allow Christ to be at the centre or core of our vision. That can be worth celebrating on our 89th birthday.