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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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Three below zero on a Minnesota morning, and the Rev. Oliver White stomps the snow off his boots as he enters the stucco edifice of Clark Memorial United Church of Christ to lead worship. He peels off an overcoat to reveal the kente-cloth vestments his wife made for him, which match the kufi hat he wears.
On this Sunday midway between Christmas and New Year’s Day, he sees a congregation thinned by both vacation and weather. Perhaps 50 people fill the pews, yet in their modest number resides a startling range: a lesbian couple with their son; a 98-year-old man who still shovels his own sidewalk; the black and white relatives of a biracial baby about to be baptized.
“Good morning, and let’s have the church say, ‘Amen,’ “ Mr. White, 71, begins, standing in the aisle rather than at the pulpit. Hearing the desultory response, he chides: “That was only half the church. Again?” The voices now rise, and he adds his own emphatic “Amen!”
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch Marriage & Family Religion & Culture Sexuality --Civil Unions & Partnerships * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches United Church of Christ Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths) * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology Sacramental Theology Theology: Scripture
“In the western section of the diocese,” the Rev. John Stark Ravenscroft told North Carolina Episcopalians in 1825, “the prospect (of advancing the faith) is very discouraging, though not without hope.”
“Spiritual destitution” is how Bishop Levi Silliman Ives characterized our region’s religious landscape 19 years later, though the physical landscape was “beautiful and striking, far beyond my powers of description.”
Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians had made great spiritual progress in Western North Carolina as early as the 18th century. Samuel Edney, head of the Methodist church’s Swannanoa circuit, established the first camp meeting west of the Blue Ridge in what is now Edneyvillle in the 1790s; in 1797, the Rev. George Newton turned Asheville’s Union Hill Academy into a Presbyterian school named after him. The French Broad Baptist Church was organized in Henderson County in 1780, and regional churches formed the French Broad Baptist Association in 1807.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Church History * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Baptists Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ
Half a century ago, the denominations under the mainline umbrella dominated the American faith landscape. Now, after decades of declining numbers, only about one in five U.S. adults identifies with a mainline denomination such as United Methodists, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA) and American Baptists.
Could replacing the “mainline” name help stem the slide? The challenge came from scholar and Presbyterian pastor Carol Howard Merritt. Writing in the venerable Christian Century magazine, she called for a new brand that conveys her view of the mainline’s rising diversity and social justice leadership.
“The image of an all-white, elitist church is not going to fly for generations to come,” said Merritt, an author and speaker who lives in Chattanooga, Tenn. “’Mainline’ was a good historic marker but the future needs to reflect who we are now.”
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ
Finitude, contingency, transience. These three linked words signal basic elements of what it is to be a human—and especially to be a historian. David Tracy, noted theologian and next door study-neighbor, taught me this connection, and I’ve let it color my life and scholarly preoccupations. It will help us interpret the almost reflexive use of the rubric “decline” in relation to the western Christian presence. Specifically, do a search for “mainline Protestant” and “decline” and you will get the picture, millions of times over.
Everything and everyone dies, is subject to accidents and change, and all human endeavor will pass and be forgotten. What can a church historian do with this obvious insight at such a time as ours? Given my parallel calling as a peregrinating lecturer, I use the vantage acquired there to try to sense the comings and goings of topics for inquiry. One way to measure public curiosity is to listen to questions asked after a lecture.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ
ome scholars with roots in more traditional churches caution against overstating the importance of liberal religion. The recent work on the subject is “a nice rebalancing of the historiographical ledgers,” said Mark Noll, a historian of religion at Notre Dame and a prominent evangelical intellectual. But for a tradition to have any continuing influence, he added, it needs committed bodies in the pews.
That point is seconded by Ms. Coffman, who worked as an editor at Christianity Today before entering academia. She currently teaches at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian institution where pastors in training, she said, are less likely to be savoring their broad cultural victories than debating which elements of evangelical worship they should adopt to attract a viable congregation.
“I teach at a mainline seminary, and we do not feel very triumphal,” Ms. Coffman said.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Culture-Watch Education History Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ
The first known use of the word “mainline” to describe the largest Protestant denominations and distinguish them from their growing evangelical and fundamentalist counterparts appeared in the New York Times in 1960—at the very moment when mainline Protestantism began its rapid decline. You don’t call something “mainline” or “mainstream” unless its supremacy is being disputed (think of the “mainstream media”). And the supremacy of older, more socially prestigious churches within American Protestantism was being directly disputed in the mid-1950s. It’s impossible to speak with precision about what constituted mainline Christianity, but in general the mainline churches de-emphasized doctrinal differences; were Northern and Midwestern rather than Southern; promoted social causes rather than personal conversion or repentance; and virtually always took the liberal line in politics. By 1960, liberal Protestantism enjoyed almost nothing of the authority that had seemed unassailable 15 years earlier.
In “The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline,” Elesha Coffman charts the half-century ascendancy of liberal Protestantism in American society from its beginnings in northern seminaries at the turn of the 20th century to its brief triumphant moment immediately after World War II, when it had no effective rival. She does this through the lens of the magazine that, in the absence of any formal governing body, was effectively this strand of Protestantism’s voice and conscience: the Christian Century.
Read it all (if needed another link is there).
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Church History * Culture-Watch Books History Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ
“Denominationalism is not dead but, increasingly, it’s only one of several options for organizing the church in America,” explained Baptist historian Bill Leonard, the James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and professor of church history at Wake Forest School of Divinity.
Increasing pluralism in the United States and the decreasing influence of Protestantism are forcing denominational leaders to ask hard questions about identity, viability and relevance.
Pluralism, “which Baptists helped put into place,” is becoming more normative, Leonard said. The rise of the “nones”—people with no connection to organized religion— also plays into the challenges denominations face.
Gone are the days when communities formulated policy and activities around the church. “We are living through the death rattle of the Protestant privilege,” Leonard said.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Baptists Disciples of Christ Evangelicals Lutheran Methodist Pentecostal Presbyterian Roman Catholic United Church of Christ
When it comes to leading denominational conversations on sexual violence, clergy across traditions express twin reactions: encouragement over the protocols already in place and the efforts of fellow advocates; and frustration with a culture of silence around sexual violence in the church. Despite strikingly different experiences across denominations — and church by church — the clergy, church staff, and seminarians who spoke with Sojourners are in agreement that addressing this issue in one’s own house is complicated at every level.
First, the good news: Several major Protestant denominations, across progressive and fundamentalist strains, subscribe to a practice of what the United Methodist Church calls “safe sanctuary” — a commitment to ensure their church buildings and leadership are free from sexual predators. These policies generally include running background checks on any volunteers working with children and establishing protocols (many developed by Marie Fortune and the Faith Trust Institute) for interpersonal interaction at the church.
These denominational policies are the first line of defense against abuse, particularly of children, in houses of worship. So what else, if anything, beyond this basic groundwork is needed from leadership?
This is where consensus breaks down, and in speaking with clergy and seminarians across denominations and traditions, various barriers and fear patterns were revealed.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Bishops * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Religion & Culture Sexuality Violence * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian Roman Catholic United Church of Christ * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology
At first, Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., could see itself as exempt from the economic forces shaking seminaries and theological schools nationwide. Luther is the biggest seminary for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States. Among its peers, it had a reputation for being innovative. Individual donors continued to give, and its local area -- in one of the country’s most Lutheran states -- was supportive.
Last fall, though, it all came crashing down. Enrollments were dropping. The seminary found it was running multimillion-dollar deficits, spending down its endowment and relying on loans. In December, its president, the Rev. Dr. Richard Bliese, resigned, as the seminary’s board began to look at options to trim at least $4 million from the seminary’s $27 million annual budget.
The results were announced...[not long ago]: layoffs for 18 of its 125 staff members, many effective within a few weeks; the voluntary departure of 8 of 44 faculty members at the end of the academic year, who will not be replaced; the termination of a master’s program in sacred music; and the decision to no longer admit Ph.D students for at least three years.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Stewardship * Culture-Watch Education Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ * Theology Seminary / Theological Education
[Lamin] Sanneh acknowledges a debt to the missionary schools that unintentionally introduced him to a desiccated version of Christian faith, and he tells how as an earnest young man he wandered from pastor to pastor, desperately seeking baptism, only to be deflected by missionaries who had compromised mission in their uneasy accommodation to Islamic culture. The story would almost be humorous if it were not so sad. Yet even the account of the missionaries’ rebuff is less painful to read than the account of what he received at the hands of liberal, mainline North American pastors who had long before enmeshed themselves in their culture by reducing their ministry to caregiving rather than conversion. As for many frustrated would-be converts in our age, it was easier for Sanneh to find Christ than for him to find Christian community. Eventually he became a Catholic while at Yale.--Will Willimon in a review of Lamin Sanneh's new Summoned From the Margin (Eerdmans, 2012), Christian Century, the October 17th, 2012 issue, page 53 (emphasis mine)
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life * Culture-Watch Books Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary Africa * Religion News & Commentary Inter-Faith Relations Other Churches Disciples of Christ Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ Other Faiths Islam Muslim-Christian relations * Theology Seminary / Theological Education
[The Rev. Eric] Greenwood, rector of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, says his denomination has its troubles. But it is still a force for good in the world.
“Everybody gets all excited about sex in the church,” he said. “But the good work that gets done in the name of God and our lord Jesus Christ, it will take your breath away.”
Nationwide, the numbers don’t look good for the Episcopal Church and other mainline Protestant denominations, most of which tend to hold more liberal beliefs. From 2000 to 2010, most suffered double-digit percentage declines in membership, leading some to wonder if those denominations can be saved in the future.
But in Nashville, those mainline churches have showed surprising strength and have grown in membership over the past decade.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Parishes * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ * Theology
We’ve become so accustomed to the narrative of “mainline decline” that it is difficult to get our minds around a more nuanced version of this story. How do you tell this story?
The ecumenical leaders achieved much more than they and their successors give them credit for. They led millions of American Protestants in directions demanded by the changing circumstances of the times and by their own theological tradition. These ecumenical leaders took a series of risks, asking their constituency to follow them in antiracist, anti-imperialist, feminist and multicultural directions that were understandably resisted by large segments of the white public, especially in the Protestant-intensive southern states.Read it all.
It is true that the so-called mainstream lost numbers to churches that stood apart from or even opposed these initiatives, and ecumenical leaders simultaneously failed to persuade many of their own progeny that churches remained essential institutions in the advancement of these values.
But the fact remains that the public life of the United States moved farther in the directions advocated in 1960 by the Christian Century than in the directions then advocated by Christianity Today. It might be hyperbolic to say that ecumenists experienced a cultural victory and an organizational defeat, but there is something to that view. Ecumenists yielded much of the symbolic capital of Christianity to evangelicals, which is a significant loss. But ecumenists won much of the U.S. There are trade-offs.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Church History * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Ecumenical Relations Other Churches Evangelicals Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ
Jesus is sending out his disciples to the people....[and he concludes by saying] if they are rejected, if... [those to whom they speak]...refuse to hear what they are saying, to leave. And he tells them that as they walk away they should shake the dust off their feet as a sign that they had not been welcomed.
Its sort of a Leadership Principles of Jesus 101 class. As much as you want consensus, as much as you want everyone to join you, that won’t always happen. And sometimes you have to just move forward and do the right thing anyway.
I was thinking about this last week. I was watching the webcast of the biannual national meeting of my former denomination, the Presbyterian Church. It’s a church I still love, but I, like many others, had my own moment of shaking the dust from my feet in order to join a church that was truly committed to moving forward and embracing all in their ministry.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Presbyterian United Church of Christ Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)
The PACHA resolution states that only programs with the best scientific information be funded, and that the government should uphold the rights of young people to have access to information in order to make healthy and responsible decisions about their sexual health.
The UCC officials issued objections in their Friday endorsement, however, specifically $5 million in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Education Health & Medicine Sexuality Teens / Youth * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Politics in General * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches United Church of Christ * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
If you believe, as most Americans do, that the upper reaches of the church don’t have much to do with the ground floor, the next Archbishop of Canterbury will have mostly trivial interest to you. Perhaps it will be John Sentamu, and the ECUSA is in for the deep-freeze. Perhaps it will be a conciliator or a caretaker. Perhaps it will be someone with an even more lush and vigorous patch of Muppet fur insulating his brows from the slings and arrows of church leadership. Who’s to say? But Easter will come, just as it did this year. There will be babies to baptize, teens to confirm, crappy church coffee to be drunk (maybe good sherry if you’re in the right congregation), and ministry to be done, regardless of who fills Williams’ seat.
But if you believe, as many Americans do, that it is of the utmost importance to speak with one voice on women in ministry, or the place of gays and lesbians in the church—if you believe that without a common creed and ethics and way of reading scripture, there’s no point in calling it a “church”—well then, you’re in for a very interesting six months or so. It’s unlikely that you’ll get a champion of orthodoxy like Benedict, and probably not such a fierce champion of unity-at-all-costs as Williams. You may have to face the same uncomfortable ideas that the rest of us are confronted with: that there is no single voice for Christianity, that Christ’s prayer “that they may all be one” is and always has been a fond wish and ardent desire but never a fact on the ground, that Christianity as a world movement has not produced a standard culture but has shaped and been shaped by many different cultures in many different ways, to the detriment of its coherence. But at this point, who the hell knows? You may find somebody who can bring it all back together, or (more likely), you may find another weak leader committed to togetherness in principle but unable to do much about it in practice. Either way, good luck, and definitely let us know if you find somebody with bigger eyebrows than Rowan Williams. We’ll want to be warned about that right away.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal - Anglican: Commentary Archbishop of Canterbury --Rowan Williams * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches United Church of Christ * Theology Ecclesiology
Together, the leaders of these Christian, Jewish and Muslim national organizations affirmed:
“We stand with President Obama and Secretary Sebelius in their decision to reaffirm the importance of contraceptive services as essential preventive care for women under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and to assure access under the law to American women, regardless of religious affiliation. We respect individuals’ moral agency to make decisions about their sexuality and reproductive health without governmental interference or legal restrictions. We do not believe that specific religious doctrine belongs in health care reform – as we value our nation’s commitment to church-state separation. We believe that women and men have the right to decide whether or not to apply the principles of their faith to family planning decisions, and to do so they must have access to services. The Administration was correct in requiring institutions that do not have purely sectarian goals to offer comprehensive preventive health care. Our leaders have the responsibility to safeguard individual religious liberty and to help improve the health of women, their children, and families. Hospitals and universities across are respected and that their students and employees have access to this basic health care service. We invite other religious leaders to speak out with us for universal coverage of contraception.Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Culture-Watch Children Health & Medicine --The 2009 American Health Care Reform Debate Law & Legal Issues Life Ethics Marriage & Family Religion & Culture Science & Technology * Economics, Politics Politics in General Office of the President President Barack Obama * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Methodist Presbyterian Roman Catholic United Church of Christ
The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, along with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which includes the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ, have stunningly endorsed Obamacare's mandate that all religious hospitals and charities must provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization, despite religious objections.
In contrast, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, National Association of Evangelicals, Southern Baptist and Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod leaders and others have condemned the mandate as an assault on religious liberty. Megachurch pastor Rick Warren has declared: "I'd go to jail rather than cave in to a government mandate that violates what God commands us to do."
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Culture-Watch Health & Medicine Law & Legal Issues Life Ethics Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Methodist Presbyterian Roman Catholic United Church of Christ
Since I’ve been chairing a national Presbyterian Church (USA) committee on the Nature of the Church for the 21st century, I’ve been gaining a different perspective on many of the larger trends of our denomination. One thing that has been difficult to realize (and equally difficult to communicate to the larger church) is the young clergy crisis.
Why would I call it a crisis? We’ve known for a long time about the startling decline of young clergy. The drop-out rates don't help (I can't find hard and fast stats on this... but some claim that about 70% of young clergy drop out within the first five years of ministry, usually because of lack of support or financial reasons). The average age of a pastor in the PCUSA is 53. And I’ve realized that the age of our leadership might be much higher.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch Aging / the Elderly Middle Age Young Adults * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ * Theology Seminary / Theological Education
A list of the Episcopal Church’s 75 commissions, committees, agencies and boards spilled over eight PowerPoint slides during a recent presentation by its new chief operating officer, Bishop Stacy Sauls.
By his count, there are also nearly 50 departments and offices in the church’s New York headquarters, and 46 committees in its legislative body, the General Convention.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Bishops * Economics, Politics Economy Corporations/Corporate Life * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ * Theology Pastoral Theology
The National Council of Churches announced on Wednesday (Nov. 9) that General Secretary Michael Kinnamon is resigning due to health reasons.
Kinnamon, 63, told the ecumenical group’s governing board that he must “immediately and significantly” reduce his activity, especially the frequent travel required by the job, under the advice of his cardiologist.
A minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Kinnamon was elected to lead the New York-based NCC in 2007, amid staff layoffs and budget cuts.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch Health & Medicine Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Ecumenical Relations Other Churches United Church of Christ
I share these two experiences alongside a comment I came across years ago: every church and every member of the clergy, over a span of time, needs to belong to a denomination. I serve as a district superintendent, and I am aware of the church's imperfections, and my own. I watch over 69 local churches and a few assorted institutions within our geographical boundaries, and we are at work on the development of a new church plant and the development of a missional church network. At any given time about 3-5 of these churches are in real crisis: they are in need of outside intervention, mediation, conflict resolution and spiritual guidance. A denomination, at its best, provides a framework for the protection of the clergy in a workplace and supervision of even the most powerful clergy leaders. In addition, a denomination works out the implications of a missional strategy in an area that is more nuanced than simply whatever the market can bear.
I share these experiences at a time when there is much rhetoric around moving energy, resources and attention to the local church. I love the local church. It is the basic context for the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world. At the same time, the local church will, on occasion, be stronger as it accomplishes mission that is beyond its own capacity, and as it is accountable to a wisdom that is outside its own day to day movements.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Psychology Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Baptists Disciples of Christ Lutheran Methodist Pentecostal Presbyterian Reformed Roman Catholic United Church of Christ * Theology Ecclesiology Pastoral Theology
Just three months into its launch, the New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary has already gained footing in exploring improved ways in which pastors and lay leaders might use new technologies to strengthen their communities.
“This increasingly rich theological discussion seems to be striking a chord of interest among religious leaders who are thinking about the impact of technology on religious life,” said the Rev. Verity A. Jones, project director and former publisher and editor of DisciplesWorld magazine. “I am encouraged that the discussion is getting some traction.”
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Blogging & the Internet --Social Networking Media Science & Technology * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches United Church of Christ
The myth about pastors, simply stated, is that we are helpers; that ours is a helping profession, counted alongside doctors and nurses and emergency responders and teachers and social workers.
Over and over again in my ministry, however, I am reminded that pastors are not helpers. We are not fixers or healers or solvers. We do not, cannot, provide help. Which may sound shocking, because people often turn to pastors for help ... and pastors, in turn, like to think that they provide concrete help to others. But no, it is all a myth.
A story might add some explanation to my myth-busting....
Read it all.
“Presbyterians join a growing Protestant movement of Lutherans, Episcopalians and United Church of Christ members who have eliminated official barriers to leadership by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons,” a coalition of pro-gay Presbyterians said in a statement.
The momentum of the gay clergy movement, however, may soon grind to a halt.
“There is not another denomination I see on the horizon right now that is on the cusp of this,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan research and consulting firm.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion) Same-sex blessings * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Presbyterian United Church of Christ Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)
At the same time mainstream denominations lose thousands of members per year, churches such as Crosspoint are growing rapidly — 15 percent of all U.S. churches identified themselves as nondenominational this year, up from 5 percent a decade ago. A third dropped out of major denominations at some point.
Their members are attracted by worship style, particular church missions or friends in the congregation.
"They no longer see the denomination as anything that has relevance to them," said Scott Thumma, a religion sociology professor at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn. He's compiling a list of nondenominational churches for the 2010 Religious Congregations and Membership Study. "The whole complexion of organized religion is in flux."
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Baptists Disciples of Christ Evangelicals Lutheran Methodist Orthodox Church Pentecostal Presbyterian Roman Catholic United Church of Christ
Chad Owen Brand writes of him:
His historical analyses were often brilliant, his exegesis was often sparse, and his knowledge of the literature was generally impressive. It is a rare theologian who really likes Irenaeus, Augustine, Anselm, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Bavinck, Herrmann, Barth, Ellul, and Rahner all at the same time. If you want to position him at all, it is somewhere between Kierkegaard and Kuyper, somewhere between Henry and Herrmann.
Bloesch made no large bold moves, hence there are no Bloeschites (or only a small group of them), but he made many small bold moves. He opposed what he called Carl Henry’s evangelical rationalism, but he anathematized feminism’s tendency to rename God into a feminine deity—he thought Henry compromised, but he considered Sallie McFague’s theology to be idolatry.
Thank God for Donald Bloesch. He will be missed, but his legacy is still here for us to learn from.
Read it all.
The former president of the United Church of Christ is divorcing his wife and is now in a committed relationship with a former co-worker at church headquarters, the UCC announced.
The Rev. John H. Thomas was general minister and president for a decade of the mainline Protestant denomination before he resigned at the end of his term in 2009.
Thomas and his wife, Lynda, are divorcing, and "he has formed a relationship with another woman with whom he worked" while he led the Cleveland-based denomination, the UCC said in a statement.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Marriage & Family Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches United Church of Christ * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology
Yes, evangelicals do have more retention of youth than mainline churches. But it is unfair to say that this is because evangelicals care more about keeping them. As someone who grew up as an evangelical and who is now in a mainline denomination, I see a different way of analyzing this trend. Rather than evangelicals caring more, they engage in the business of scaring more (sorry for the pun, it just worked well.)
Mainline denominations are uninterested in telling youth that they are going to burn in Hell if they don’t commit to Christianity and regularly come to church. Evangelicals, on the other hand, do. Mainline denominations are uninterested in guilting their members into attending; evangelicals see no problem with this. It’s a matter of philosophy. Evangelicals are consequentialists when it comes to youth formation–the end justifies the means. Mainline denominations are typically deontologists–if the means are not right, the action is wrong, even if good comes from it....
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Youth Ministry * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ
Evangelicals care more than mainline Protestants about keeping their young people in the faith. This is the striking conclusion James Wellman reaches in his fascinating book, “Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest” (Oxford). Based on observations, interviews, and focus group discussions with people from 24 evangelical and 10 mainline churches, all vital churches with stable or growing memberships, this lively book compares these two religious cultures in many ways. How people think about youth and youth ministry emerges as a key difference: “For evangelicals, if children and youth are not enjoying church, it is the church’s fault and evangelical parents either find a new church or try to improve their youth ministry. For liberals, the tendency is the reverse; if youth do not find church interesting it is their problem. Evangelicals are simply more interested and invested in reproducing the faith in their children and youth and their churches reflect this priority.”
Even though evangelical and mainline churches both lose many young people to the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated, and even though both groups lose more young people than they did before, evangelical churches still lose fewer young people than liberal churches lose. Evangelical families emphasize religion more than mainline families do, and evangelical churches involve young people in a denser social web of youth groups, church camps, and church-based socializing, all of which increase the chances that a young person will remain in the fold as an adult. This is one reason that evangelical denominations have not suffered the same membership declines in recent decades that more liberal, mainline denominations have suffered.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Youth Ministry * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals Lutheran Presbyterian United Church of Christ
After a decade-long clergy shortage in America's pulpits, Christian denominations are now experiencing a clergy glut -- with some denominations reporting two ministers for every vacant pulpit.
"We have a serious surplus of ministers and candidates seeking calls," said Marcia Myers, director of the vocation office for the Presbyterian Church (USA), which has four ministers for every opening.
The cause of the sudden turnaround: blame the bad economy.
According to PC(USA) data, there are 532 vacancies for 2,271 ministers seeking positions. The Assemblies of God, United Methodist Church, Church of the Nazarene and other Protestant denominations also report significant surpluses.
Cash-strapped parishioners -- who were already aging and shrinking in number -- have given less to their churches, resulting in staff cuts. Meanwhile, older clergy who saw their retirement funds evaporate are delaying retirement, leaving fewer positions available to younger ministers.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Economics, Politics Economy The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007-- * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ * Theology Seminary / Theological Education
The Episcopal Church, like other mainline Protestant denominations, is not immune from the seismic political, sociological and economic shifts happening today. Most of us are experiencing "a time of no longer and a time of not yet"--an era of rapid, complex change; chronic anxiety; and heightened ambiguity. The comfort of the familiar is fading, and the movement toward an unknown future can feel terrifying.
In times like these, Christians expect religious leadership to help bridge the gap between the ideal and the real, and to equip followers to live out the Gospel in an environment of extreme polarities, i.e., poverty and wealth, insularity and inclusiveness, hostility and hospitality, homogeneity and diversity. The call "to love our neighbors as ourselves" is being drowned out by a barrage of shrill and hate-filled rhetoric. The distance between what Christians profess to believe and what they do seems wider than ever, creating a gap of dysfunction. There are few trusted religious leaders in the public square, whose rational voices, theological gravitas and moral authority can quell the incivility, incendiary rhetoric, and growing intolerance of differences. At a time when the leadership of the church is most needed, there is silence.
The mainline churches are finding themselves on the margins, declining in membership and donations. Some are in the grip of unresolved conflicts and divisions; others are locked in scandal. The main mission is hostage to a host of distracting issues. In short, the church is experiencing a crisis of leadership.
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(The above is my title, you can see his by going to the link below--KSH)
The Christian churches in the United States are in trouble for all the usual reasons — human sinfulness and selfishness, the temptations of life in an affluent society, doctrinal and moral controversies and uncertainties and on and on and on — but also and to a surprisingly large degree they are in trouble because they are trying to address the problems of the twenty first century with a business model and a set of tools that date from the middle of the twentieth. The mainline churches in particular are organized like General Motors was organized in the 1950s: they have cost structures and operating procedures that simply don’t work today. They are organized around what I’ve been calling the blue social model, built by rules that don’t work anymore, and oriented to a set of ideas that are well past their sell-by date.
Without even questioning it, most churchgoers assume that a successful church has its own building and a full-time staff including one or more professionally trained leaders (ordained or not depending on the denomination). Perhaps no more than half of all congregations across the country can afford this at all; most manage only by neglecting maintenance on their buildings or otherwise by cutting corners. And even when they manage to make the payroll and keep the roof in repair, congregations spend most of their energy just keeping the show going from year to year. The life of the community centers around the attempt to maintain a model of congregational life that doesn’t work, can’t work, won’t work no matter how hard they try. People who don’t like futile tasks have a tendency to wander off and do other things and little by little the life and vitality (and the rising generations) drift away.
At the next level up, there is another level of ecclesiastical bureaucrats and officials staffing regional offices. When my dad was a young priest in the Episcopal diocese of North Carolina back in the late 1950s the bishop had a secretary and that was pretty much it for diocesan staff. These days the Episcopal church is in decline, with perhaps a third to a half or more of its parishes unable to meet their basic expenses and with members dying off or drifting away much faster than new people come through the door — but no respectable bishop would be caught dead with the pathetic staff with which Bishop Baker ran a healthy and growing diocese in North Carolina back in the 1950s. (Bishop Baker was impressive in another way; he could tie his handkerchief into the shape of a bunny rabbit, put it flat on the palm of his hand, and have it hop off. I was only six when he showed me this trick, but it was clear to me that this man had something special to offer. Since that time I’ve traveled all over the world and met bishops, archbishops, cardinals and even a pope — but none of them made quite the impression on me that Bishop Baker and his jumping handkerchief did.)
Bishops today in their sinking, decaying dioceses surround themselves with large staffs who hold frequent meetings and no doubt accomplish many wonderful things, although nobody outside the office ever quite knows what these are. And it isn’t just Anglicans. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, UCC, the whole crowd has pretty much the same story to tell. Staffs grow; procedures flourish and become ever more complex; more and more years of school are required from an increasingly ‘professional’ church staff: everything gets better and better every year — except somehow the churches keep shrinking. Inside, the professionals are pretty busy jumping through hoops and writing memos to each other and grand sweeping statements of support for raising the minimum wage and other noble causes — but outside the regional headquarters and away from the hum of the computers and printers, local congregations lose members, watch their buildings fall year by year into greater disrepair, and in the end they close their doors.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) General Convention House of Deputies President Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori TEC Bishops TEC Diocesan Conventions/Diocesan Councils TEC House of Deputies TEC Parishes TEC Polity & Canons * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ * Theology Seminary / Theological Education
The Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed his concerns to the Pope about the way the Vatican announced a scheme to welcome disaffected Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church.
In the private meeting at the Vatican with Benedict XVI, Dr Rowan Williams made clear he had been put in an 'awkward position' because he had been given so little warning about the proposals to entice Anglicans to Rome by letting them keep many of their traditions.
But he insisted that the tone of the meeting had been 'very friendly', and relations between the two Churches were still strong. The Vatican also described the meeting as 'cordial'.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI United Church of Christ
When asked why they chose their current denomination, the majority of respondents spoke of the strong similarity between their present church and the Catholic Church in terms of liturgy, ministry and theology. This was especially true for the Episcopalians and seems to explain why so many of the survey respondents gravitated to the Anglican Communion. Most of those who joined the Episcopal Church said that with only minor adjustments they “felt at home” from the beginning and that they found comfort in the fact that they could hold onto their core beliefs in the Resurrection and the Eucharist. Over time they modified their views on other subjects, such as papal infallibility and women’s ordination, but many of them had already begun to question the validity of those doctrines.
Before I began the interviews, I hypothesized that diocesan priests would be overrepresented in my sample because they seem to be at greater risk for loneliness than religious order priests. (Most religious live in community, while diocesan priests often live alone in rectories because of the shortage of priests.) The survey results support this hypothesis. Based on the historical ratio of American diocesan clergy to religious, one would expect to find 61.5 percent diocesan priests in this sample; in fact, 72.3 percent of the respondents had served in diocesan ministry. (Recall that Cutié was a diocesan priest.)
Where [Alberto] Cutié differs from most of the men I surveyed is in the historical timing of his decision. The majority of respondents began their journey to a new church in the period from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. It seems unlikely that Cutié’s example will spark another wave of priestly resignations. According to research conducted by Dean R. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger in Evolving Visions of Priesthood: Changes from Vatican II to the Turn of the New Century (2003), young priests today are more theologically conservative than their immediate predecessors and are more likely therefore to embrace the church’s traditional teaching on celibacy. Questions remain, however, about how many young Catholic men have chosen lay or Protestant ministry over the Catholic priesthood because of the demands of celibacy—a fitting area of inquiry, perhaps, for another curious sociologist.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian Roman Catholic United Church of Christ
It is too early to call the ELCA’s decision a tipping point for mainline Protestants. The Presbyterian Church (USA) and the much larger United Methodist Church continue to prohibit gay people from being ordained. Demographics likely explain some of these differences - there are many more Methodists and Presbyterians in the most conservative regions of the country than members of the ELCA, Episcopal Church, or United Church of Christ.
The history of debate in individual denominations matters too - the Presbyterians and Methodists have been locked in divisive internal battles about homosexuality for longer than the ELCA - as do the formal ways denominations make decisions. The Presbyterians seem the most likely to follow the ELCA; their denominational vote on gay ordination this year was narrower than in the past.
These shifts within mainline Protestantism reflect liberalizing public opinion about homosexuality. They show that mainline Protestant denominations, like most religious traditions, are continually adapting and revising theological interpretations as their social environments change. We salute the ELCA for taking a bold step in the direction of justice and equality and hope the Presbyterians and United Methodists soon follow suit - fully tipping the mainline Protestant denominations toward complete equality for gay men and lesbians.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)
Of mainline Protestants surveyed by the Pew Forum for its U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 56 percent said homosexuality should be accepted by society. Thirty-four percent of those Protestants said it should be discouraged. In all, the Pew Forum surveyed more than 35,000 adults of all faiths.
Others say the growing acceptance of homosexuality in churches is unique to North American liberal Protestantism.
Christianity is growing fastest in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, and those believers are much more conservative on sexuality, said Bishop Callon W. Holloway Jr. of the Southern Ohio Synod of the ELCA. He opposed the changes at last week's Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis.
Now, Holloway is trying to hold his synod together. He's heard from between 200 and 300 people who say they intend to leave the denomination, he said.
Such departures could have devastating consequences for congregations that rely on members financially, he said.
The Rev. Paul Ulring, pastor of the 5,000-member Upper Arlington Lutheran Church, said his congregation is likely to leave the ELCA.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion) Same-sex blessings * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)
AFA Journal: Considering that the mainlines have been on a path away from orthodoxy for more than 40 years, do you ever feel that IRD is a voice crying in the wilderness, that no one is listening?
Mark Tooley: No! God clearly has preserved a strong voice of orthodoxy and renewal within all the mainline denominations. We should be careful not to conflate the views of church elites with the views of all church members. They are part of the Body of Christ. None of us has the liberty to write off any part of the Body of Christ, no matter how troubled.
In a more temporal sense, the mainliners still bring a powerful history and legacy to American Christianity from which modern evangelicals can and should learn. As we see from distressing current evangelical trends, doctrine, church structure and appreciation for church history are vital for strong churches.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Disciples of Christ Evangelicals Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ
A few statistics tell the story.
A majority of seminary students now carry educational debt, and they’re borrowing larger amounts than in the past. Graduates confirm that their debt affects their career choices, holds them back from purchasing homes, prevents them from saving for their children’s education, limits their retirement savings, delays health care and creates distress.
Christian Century magazine recently reported that “churches are paying their clergy proportionately lower salaries today then they did a generation ago, making it more difficult for ministerial candidates to justify the high cost of a graduate degree.”
Fewer than 7 percent of clergy in most Protestant and Catholic denominations today are under age 35.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Stewardship * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ * Theology Seminary / Theological Education
The decision to cease the newsprint edition of United Church News was made on March 20 by the board of directors of the Office of General Ministries (OGM), which has been struggling with skyrocketing costs for the newspaper's production. Postage and printing costs have more than doubled during the past five years, with costs now surpassing $125,000 per issue.
The National edition will publish one more issue in September. The Conference editions — or "wrap arounds" — ended with the April edition, although Conferences were offered the opportunity to print one additional issue if willing to share the costs equally with the UCC's National setting.
"This was a difficult decision for board members, because it was rooted in significant financial angst," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the UCC's communications director and a former editor of United Church News. "But it also paves the way for the development of an expanded online news portal and, most likely, a new and different print publication for the United Church of Christ."
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"What if church wasn't just a building, but thousands of doors?" asks a new website launched by the United Methodist Church. "Each of them opening up to a different concept or experience of church. . . . Would you come?" After watching its membership drop nearly 25 percent in recent decades, the United Methodist Church, which is still the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination, thinks it knows the answer. So it's pouring $20 million into a new marketing campaign, including the website, television advertisements, even street teams in some cities, to rebrand the church from stale destination to "24-7 experience."
"The under-35 generation thinks church is a judgmental, hypocritical, insular place," says Jamie Dunham, chief planning officer for Bohan Advertising & Marketing, the firm that designed the United Methodist campaign. "So our question is: What if church can change the world with a journey?"
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Culture-Watch Media Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian United Church of Christ
Ever since the Pilgrims crossed an ocean in search of freedom from the religious doctrines of the Old World, their descendants in the Congregational Church have prided themselves on independence. Now that sense of independence is on trial. A regional body of the United Church of Christ has sued to oust a tiny congregation here from its property. The plaintiff: the Southeast Conference of the UCC, whose 1.2 million members make it the nation's largest Congregational fellowship. The defendant: Center Congregational Church, 36 members on a good Sunday.
"As far as I can see, the UCC just wants to bully us," says Rick Langdon, chairman of the trustees at Center Congregational. But there's more here than a David-and-Goliath story. The dispute involves doctrinal issues, legal complexities and conflicting personalities. A church breaking away from its denomination is something like a divorce, with all the attendant messiness of property division. Each case is unique -- yet similar -- and dissident churches everywhere will be watching this one for clues about how far a denomination will be allowed to go legally when things get ugly.
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United Church of Christ leaders are hailing a unanimous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court to reject the state's ban on same-gender marriage as unconstitutional. Iowa now joins Massachusetts and Connecticut in becoming the third state to allow same-sex couples to marry.
“Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa are three states whose cultures were shaped profoundly by the Congregational experience,” said the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president. “I can't help but believe and affirm that there is a connection at work here.”
The United Church of Christ has 179 local churches in Iowa, and Grinnell College - one of state's most prominent liberal arts schools - is historically related to the denomination.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Marriage & Family Religion & Culture Sexuality --Civil Unions & Partnerships * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches United Church of Christ
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