Change is a part of life. Few will argue that point, but it’s hard not to be a little breathless at the magnitude and the pace of the changes in motion today.
The impacts are all around us – some of them helpful and positive; others confusing and even a little scary.
The paradigms we have relied on for decades are fading into obscurity even as technology makes things that were once unthinkable as close as our back pocket.
I’ve written a number of blogs on waning church and center attendance. I still meet people who tell me that “things are picking up!” and I smile. I’m happy that they are happy – but they are whistling past the graveyard. And not just because I say so. The trends are larger than any one denomination or faith group.
I still receive the local Jewish Chronicle. It’s a good read on local and world politics from the Jewish perspective and I enjoy every issue. A recent copy featured a front page, above the fold article on the relevance of the synagogue in the 21st century.
Before I share the details, let’s establish a few facts. The reason that Jews and Christians affiliate with and attend a local house of worship varies between the 2 faith traditions. While there are some shared motivations, there are also divergent ones. I know this because I have a foot in each camp. The closest comparison to Jewish practice (motivations to affiliate and attend) in the Christian tradition is Catholicism.
The reason I point this out is that this difference undercuts some of the generalized reasons naysayers give for the downward trends in church attendance (e.g. “it’s the music“, or “it’s the Sunday morning thing“). Catholics and Jews have had non-Sunday services for centuries and they’re still struggling along with the rest of the faith traditions to fill seats for their weekly services. They have vastly different holidays and still suffer similar challenges in membership and attendance. I feel confident in saying that it’s not the organist, cantor or communion wine keeping people away on Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday night or Sunday morning.
According to the article, while the local Jewish population grew by 17% since 2002; only 35% of households report a synagogue affiliation – compared to 53% in 2002.
One rabbi asked the question: “Can Jewish life be sustained without the synagogue?“
A colleague answered him with an answer that we could use in the spiritual-not-religious sector: “Clearly people are living Jewish lives absent the synagogue.” (consider the 17% growth of Jewish households)
The same rabbi went on to say that the challenge will be “...to figure out what role the synagogue has going forward and how (leaders) can best meet that task.“
The questions, and the answers, could be shared inserting “Center” for “Synagogue“. Clearly people are living SPIRITUAL LIVES absent the Center and the challenge for Practitioners, ministers and other leaders in New Thought is absolutely to figure out the ROLE that the Center can/could/should play in spiritual life, and how said leaders can best serve in that capacity.
Consider the brick road pictured in the photo above compared to the same section of road, freshly paved (below). The bricks are obsolete, and don’t serve the needs of travelers on the modern street – but the way is still viably traveled to reach the same homes, schools and other destinations.
Spiritual teachings are like these roads. They will remain avenues for enlightenment. The synagogues, churches and centers that once served a very important purpose are like the brick roads. In many ways they have outlived their relevance in the modern world – just as the beautiful but impractical, brick streets.
We don’t stop traveling these streets; but we appreciate that our modern vehicles can drive on smooth, even asphalt instead of uneven bricks. Similarly, we won’t stop connecting with the Divine; praying and seeking spiritual meaning to our lives; but we connect in ways that are smoother and less disruptive to our modern lives.
The teachings of Ernest Holmes, Emma Curtis Hopkins, Thomas Troward, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralph Waldo Trine, Malinda Cramer, Nona Brooks, the Fillmores and many, many more will live on in books, blogs, YouTube video talks and other media outlets; but the paths to learning them are in flux.
I sometimes look wistfully at the more pristine sections of brick streets in my neighborhood and wish that they could all be the quaint, throw-back style. Then, it rains (or worse, gets icy); and I remember that progress is a good thing (ice on brick roads is no joke).
In the 1940s everyone in the small town my father was born in went to church on Sunday. Many of these same people also had an outhouse instead of indoor plumbing. The good old days weren’t all that good. And while progress does bring with it a balance of good and bad; we must not get so fixated on the old days that we lose sight of the evolution unfolding in front of us.
Yes, the future of the 20th century-style church/center is tenuous at best, but the answers don’t lie behind us – after all, we’re now in the 21st century! The answers we seek will only be discovered when we embrace the future (it’s here!) and look ahead with open minds and open hearts.
And so it is!
(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path