November 08, 2019 by Jesse Lebus
St. Luke’s, friends and family:
Around the middle of last month, the Pew Research Center published a report; the headline: “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace.” Primary statistics make up the opening paragraph, saying that in telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, “65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.”
To paraphrase: less believers, more non-believers. The report has spawned dozens of editorials, countless social media posts and rants, and even a few fruitful discussions between myself and clergy colleagues. I was grateful to have one yesterday at the diocesan offices in Garden City and I came away with a thought or two.
For generations attending church was, in part, convention. This might well have resulted in a complacent institution (clergy and congregation) that’s taken for granted church attendance, and assumed an understanding of its traditions and a deepening of faith among its members. As skeptics increasingly questioned the validity and purpose of organized religion, adherents became less and less able to answer for it.
Needless to say I’d like to see more people in more churches and efforts must be made to put the basics in place: consistent Sunday services, Sunday School, bible studies, opportunities for fellowship, and ministries that serve the wider community. But one way to look at the statistical trends might be to consider it a refining of our faith.
We welcome everyone. The curious, skeptical, even those who attend because “that’s just what one does,” are encouraged to find a home here at St. Luke’s. But increasingly, those who attend church are coming because they are seeking understanding, a deepening of faith and transformation.
One of my colleagues in Garden City shared an inspired reflection yesterday: “I think there's something to take heed of in the report,” she said. “But I’m not worried. God is at work in the world and I want to be a part of it, and so do those who still come to church.”
I read another statistic recently, that the average Sunday attendance in Episcopal Churches across the country is 70. At St. Luke’s our average for September and October was 60, a 50 percent increase over the previous two years. For the size of our village and the size of our church, considering the proximity of all our neighboring parishes, that is something to be proud of. I attribute this to your willingness, as parishioners and lay leaders, to take part in the basics - bringing your children to church for Sunday School, coming to bible study, attending fellowship events and developing outreach ministries in our community.
Jesus tells those who seek him, again and again: Do not be afraid. 12 step wisdom reminds us: Keep It Simple. My friend, a priest at the cathedral, says: God is at work in the world! I believe it. I can see it here at St. Luke’s and I pray that we can continue to defy the statistics.