Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Can the United Church be Resilient?

This morning I zipped off to a gathering at one of the many United Churches in Belleville to further the conversation between a number of congregations from our denomination. We all understand that the way we have done ministry in the past is no longer effective and we hope that God will show what it in store for this time and place. We have come together with no preconceived notions about the outcome of our conversations.

Today Rev. Cathy Russell from St. Matthew's presented some material from a seminar she attended where Reg Bibby, the Canadian sociologist, shared findings from research on religion in Canada. Bibby has been at this for eons and we had him come to Sudbury and St. Andrew's, the congregation I was serving at the time. He has also done work for the United Church of Canada specifically.

What Cathy heard is that the Roman Catholic church in this country is surprisingly healthy, as are evangelical churches. Mainline churches? Not so much, and the United Church leads the way.

Bibby suggested that part of this is that we have bought into the "old story" that Canada used to be religious but is now largely secular, so whaddya gonna do? And that a lot of people are now "spiritual rather than religious." He says that the "new story" supported by research data is that a surprisingly high percentage of Canadians still identify as religious, although they may not go to places of worship. There are a fair number of ambivalent folk, the equivalent of "swing-voters" who just haven't made up their minds. The percentage of truly non-religious people is relatively small.

There weren't many United Church types at the event that Cathy attended, but he cheerfully encouraged them to drop the old narrative and to engage with those who still see themselves as religious and recent out to those who are ambivalent.

This makes sense to me. How about you?

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