Over the course of the last year, I have read countless articles about the state of our struggling Church. The struggle is not just an Episcopal one, but is common across most denominations. There are all sorts of theories about why it is happening and who or what is to blame. I myself have pondered these theories in my heart, as I wonder what ministry will look like twenty years from now. But in all the finger-pointing and discussion about what is causing our attrition, I stumbled on this prayer last week in a blog entry by David Lose:
L: Let us pray together.
C: Your church is composed of people like me.
I help make it what it is.
It will be friendly, if I am.
Its pews will be filled, if I help fill them.
It will do great work, if I work.
It will make generous gifts to many causes, if I am a generous giver.
It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship, if I invite and bring them.
It will be a church where people grow in faith and serve you, if I am open to such growth and service.
Therefore, with your help Lord, we shall dedicate ourselves to the task of being all the things you want your church to be. Amen.[i]
What I loved about this prayer is that it took the argument about church decline and made it personal. No longer was the issue one that “the Church” was facing, but one that I am personally facing. There is no mysterious formula that will solve this problem. The issue is me – about how I make the Church the place the Church is meant to be – the place God longs for her to be. I cannot count on people simply having an inspired desire to come to Church. I need to share my story. I need to get my hands dirty being Church. I need to stop hiding my love of Jesus and start living as one who is loved by that same Jesus.
Our church just had two baptism Sundays in a row. In those services we made some tremendous promises – to seek and serve Christ, to share the good news, to strive for justice and peace, and to be present in the life and work of the church. That all sounds like a lot of work. But the truth is that the work is not onerous when done in community. The work is not onerous when we look into the eyes of infants and confidently welcome them into the community of faith. The work is not onerous when it gives us great joy. Over the next few weeks, I invite you to pray this prayer everyday. Pay attention to whether its words create some shifting in you. Linger in the parts that seem the most uncomfortable. And then keep inviting the Spirit of the Living God to fall afresh on you.
[i] The prayer was not written by David Lose, but one he stumbled upon in a church in Wisconsin. The full citation can be found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1620.