From the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times; from the Christian Century to the Presbyterian Outlook; from journalists, seminary presidents, political pundits and countless internet newsfeeds in between, there is a lot of conversation in the public sphere about the state of church and the declining numbers of adherents to Christian faith and practice.
Church historians tell us that, from its inception, every 500 years the church undergoes a major Reformation. In the first few centuries the early underground movement of believers gave way to the church becoming a major organizing social institution. Five centuries later there was a major split between the Eastern Orthodox and the Western Roman Catholic Church, and five centuries after that, the Reformation splintered the western church into a multiplicity of denominations. Now, 500 more years down the road, we are in the middle of a new kind of reformation, and it’s hard to see clearly where the church is and where we are going.
The big picture data that points to congregations in decline and a post-pandemic exodus of pastoral leadership that we read about in the news needs to be taken seriously and can be downright depressing. However, polling data is not the only evidence of church vitality! Look around at who is involved in the ministries of this congregation, and people are growing in faith and faithfulness. The gospel of Christ is being lived out in beautiful and courageous ways in and through Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church.
This Sunday we regather for a full program year and begin a special 150th Anniversary season of celebration. In worship the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Philippians will be our guide. Under extraordinarily difficult times and personal circumstances Paul found great joy in being part of Christ’s church. I believe this most joyful of all his writings can help us navigate this complex and changing season of being the church together with hope and rejoicing.
One of our PC(USA) seminary’s publications recently published an article asking, “What is Church?” Its response read in part, “One of the best things churches can do is to facilitate conversations, listening, and connections that make space for all people to form networks that allow us to determine what is a faithful way of life moving forward… We are, at our best, God’s people both gathered and sent to be witnesses.”
Gather with us on Rally Day this Sunday for worship, nurture, food and fellowship. And as the fall unfolds with a focus on this historic congregation’s past, present and future, join the conversation about how we can be most faithful moving forward together as disciples of Christ.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!