by Bil Aulenbach

Is Change a Church Killer?

The contrast between the church I grew up in and the church of today is like black and white. The church of my youth was alive and vital. Today’s church has rigor mortis.

What happened?

I think I know. Change happened.

The church was strong and growing when I was ordained in 1960. Then came a big change.

The Episcopal church is guided (sometimes dictated) by its Book of Common Prayer (BCP), which was first published in 1549. The version of the BCP used in the sixties had remained essentially unchanged since 1662. It used Elizabethan English, which sounded beautiful but wasn’t current. Nor was the theology.

The BCP needed to be updated, so the church liturgists spent a decade revising it. The revisions were discussed ad nauseam, but some folks strongly felt that changing even one word was blasphemy. When the 1977 BCP was ratified, some Episcopalians were so upset that they started new churches that used only the old version. Yikes!

I remember fiery discussions about changing the thy and thine in the Lord’s Prayer to your and yours. Some people threatened to leave the church if it dared to change the words. Unbelievable. Many Episcopalians still use thee and thou.

Another big change happened in the 1970s. After years of wrangling, Episcopalians voted to ordain women. This move alienated many Episcopal misogynists, clergypeople, and laity (even women). For me, it was “Good riddance!” but clearly, any change brings division.

The next change was cultural and economic. States started eliminating Sunday laws, or blue laws (which required everything but churches to be closed on Sundays), allowing shopping centers, professional sports, liquor stores, and youth sports leagues to flourish. Many folks then felt free to drop church.

In this same era, another cultural change occurred. Divorce became acceptable, but this caused a quandary. Divorcees couldn’t be remarried in the church, so divorcees quit going. Then the church changed its stance and started remarrying divorcees. That change drove out those who felt the church had lost its moral compass. Change seems to always include pain.

The biggest change was giving the LGBTQUI community full rights as church members. The closet doors opened. Gay and lesbian clergypeople admitted their sexual orientation, and the doors of ordination opened to all. Gay and lesbian couples, including members of the clergy, could be legally married.

The homophobes left in droves, which was a good thing. The kin-dom welcomes every human being, no matter where they are on their life’s journey. But this change was tough on church numbers.

My conclusion is that change is killing the church.

My proof? Fundamentalist churches keep growing. They don’t change anything. Women are still second class. Homosexuality is a “bad choice.” Abortion is evil. God wrote the Bible. Jesus is God in disguise. And the church will tell you how to think and vote.

What’s your take? Is change in the church an asset or a liability?

Image courtesy of David J (CC BY 2.0)

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