On November 11 I stood at the local cenotaph, with several other area residents. It is something I do every year, wherever I live. But this year there was no ceremony, no representatives of various branches of the service, no trooping of the colours … just a group of people standing in silence (except for the few moments when one man pulled out his iPhone and streamed the ceremonies from Parliament Hill).
When I commented on this to folks in the church, their response was “Oh everyone knows that we do Remembrance Day the Sunday before November 11”. Obviously not everyone — because there were about forty people gathered, expecting something.
And that comment got me thinking. Because that same sentiment has been articulated often in the church. One of the first parishes I served had an ideal location on the main street of their community. As they tried to grow the congregation they would often point to the location and say things like “how can any one miss us — the whole town passes by here 3–4 times a day”. The implication was that the onus was on “them” to come to “us” … that our simply being here was enough.
It is not.
Time has shown us that people no longer flock to the church the way they used to (or as some might argue — the way we think they used to). The world has changed. Churches do not hold a monopoly on community life. We are no longer the community center (most municipalities have facilities specifically for various gatherings strategically set around the region) and there are now many more options for Sunday morning than just going to church.
And we are faced with a dilemma.
Recent statistics show that church membership and resources are in an even greater state of decline that we had anticipated. Do we sit back and wait for the inevitable, or do we step up, and go back to our original calling to go into the world, share the good news of the gospel, and make disciples.
The Diocese of Niagara has made its case quite clear: We are not ready to close the doors and turn off the lights.
Synod reaffirmed its commitment to being a community of Faith, a Missional Church, a church determined to go out into our world and let our Faith live — in a world which hungers for them. Affirming the Draft Mission Action Plan “Called to Live — Compelled to Love” was our first step.
Step out of the Boat — was a phrase repeated across the diocese in the weeks following Synod. Both Bishop Bell and Bishop Cliff urged us to enter into the messy-ness (the tempest) of the world … and reminded us that Jesus is already there. The gospels teach us that Jesus was never one to hide in the safety of the temple … but was continually gathering with those whom society saw as unworthy. His message was “all are worthy of the love of God”.
His message is our message.
And in the months and years ahead, every parish, church, and individual will be encouraged to see how that mission plays out in their own context.
I sent an email to the local legion — expressing my concern that there was nothing at the cenotaph, and offering my services for next year. Possibilities abound.
The Reverend Rob Towler is the editor of the Niagara Anglican.