Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Dreaded 'E' Word

Pentecost Sunday.  The overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit to lift up drooping hands and strengthen weak knees to go out in the public square and proclaim the good news of God in Christ in ordinary everyday language.  That was then.  What about now?  
This morning I was asked why Episcopalians seem to be so scared of the dreaded ‘E’ word.  For one thing, I don’t think it’s an Episcopalian illness but one that affects all mainline churches, including the Catholics.  We got used to the idea that everyone in America was either Protestant or Catholic with a few Jews tossed in.  As for Protestants, the primary question was what flavor one liked best without much thought given to dogma.  If youngsters left the church shortly after confirmation, so what?  They would be back when married with children of their own.  That was never true, but it’s taken two or three generations for it to sink in.  In the meantime, why would one even think about neighborhood evangelizing?  Missionaries to the heathen, yes, by all means, and what a treat to hear their stories of far off exotic places!  But me in my own community?  Not a chance!  That’s for those odd ball doorbell ringers, and we certainly Do Not want to be confused with one of them.
That’s one part of the problem.  The second is more serious.  Our faithful members don’t know the story well enough to tell it in plain, ordinary, everyday language.  I filled in for a friend at another rural church this morning.  One long time member leaned over to my wife just before the service began to ask what Pentecost was.  She knew it meant wearing something red, but what else?  She remembered learning something about it in Sunday School, but that was fifty years ago.  Our wonderful people, the faithful ones who show up every Sunday (Saturday if you’re SDA), not only do not know the story well enough to tell it, they do not know why their particular Church worships the way it does and teaches what it teaches.  Most important, they don’t know their own story well enough to tell it.  
I’m not sure what to do about that.  How do you inspire in an aging congregation the love of life long learning about God as we Christians have come to know and understand God?  Maybe one way is to challenge the assumption that they don’t want to learn and are unwilling to try.  I don’t buy that.  I believe that new and youthful life in Christian discipleship is not just possible but would be highly desired and sought after if presented in the right way.  Why let a few grumpy old men and women stand in the way?  Ignore them and get on with teaching the story so that it can be told.

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