Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Retreat at Abbey redux

Well it turns out that I had written a little piece about my time at St Gregory's Abbey before I left. I carry with me a notebook in which I from time to time will jot down some ideas for a blog post or write a sizable portion of a blog post when I am not near my computer. When I began to write some notes for my post on Take this Bread, I found what I had intend to post when I returned. So here it is a reflecting on my time at the Abbey written about an hour before I left the Abbey after Sexte on the 24th of June.

At the Abbey June 24th-
I will have spent exactly 24 hours at the Abbey. I traveled to Kalamazoo by train and was picked up and dropped off by the monks Brother Abraham and then Brother Martin. I felt less impacted by the environment of St Gregories because the ride from the train station to the Abbey with Brother Abraham was like entering a pocket of the monastery before arriving there.

I had several conversation that were all about the stat of Christianity in the U.S., with some of the monks and with a priest who was also on retreat there. From these conversations I am concluding that there is a neare universal response to the continued transformation of the American religious context: get congregations and parishes to grow numerically. In essence to attempt to create some semblance of the peak of church attendance and membership in the period after WWII. This means that our focus remains as all of our denominations face decline (recently it has been reported that even the Souther Baptist Convention is not immune to declining numbers just not yet as serious as with "mainline" denominations) is to attempt to get our congregations to attract people to come to worship and take part in programs.

I wonder about this attitude because it seems to be partially based on the assumption or belief that church is merely a human institution that we have to convince people to join. We do not seem to believe that the gathered faithful are places of encounter with Jesus Christ and the Trinity Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We do not seem to really believe that our faith and health as church has to do with being filled with the Spirit. It seems to me that if that was our belief than "attracting" people would not be our concern but truly worshiping god and being formed into the holy temple the body of Christ and royal priesthood, that then goes out and proclaims the Gospel in word and dead. Now I can't guarantee that that focus will in all places and all times bring in the numbers. It seems to be true that at times people don't want or don't think they want the Gospel, and an encounter with the God who became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. Acts Certainly indicates that one can have both amazing numerical growth and complete rejection of the Gospel and everything in between.

In our current context I think we should be asking oursleves if our worship is true worship- meaning not only a question of form but about whether we are living our lives out of that worship. We should also ask if our people are living out and thus proclaiming the Gospel. This should lead us to ask if our seminaries, priest/pastors, Bishops/Superintendents and other denominations leaders are in fact teaching the Gospel and the faith once delivered to the saints. However we will not find the answer to this question if we allow ourselves to be stuck in the categories of "conservative" or "liberal", or other narrowly conceived notions of Christian truth.

Well that seems to be what I was thinking about at least over my 24 hours, as well as writing on the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Reading Rowan Williams book Resurrection. I am not sure I know exactly where I was going with the above thought. And not even sure I would defend all that I wrote above but it was interesting to find this and also to discover that I had this thought and had moved on in a sense. Though I think it might link up in interesting ways to my thoughts on Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion. Thoughts anyone?