Published on 15 Jun 2011
On Saturday, June 11, 2011, celebrated author Diana Butler Bass led an all-day session at Christ Church Cathedral on her next book: After Religion: The Three Questions Shaping a New Spiritual Awakening. The Cathedral’s own Neale Adams took notes (which you can find below).
On Sunday June 12, 2011, Diana preached at the Cathedral. You can listen to the audio MP3 version of her sermon by clicking here!
Lecture Notes by Neale Adams:
What’s happening at Christ Church Cathedral presents vision of the future Church, well-known historian and author Diana Butler Bass declared after preaching at the Cathedral.
Butler Bass, an Episcopalian from Alexandria, Virginia, on Saturday, June 12, presented a preview of a book she had just completed, Christianity After Religion, which will be published early next year, and preached at the Pentecost Sunday service the next day.
On her Facebook page she commented afterwards:
“A very good day at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver. Every seat taken, a sea of red, procession of “Veni Sancte Spiritus,” baptisms, guest choir, beautiful prayers (including one by Ronald Rolheiser), seven languages, and generous hospitality and laughter. If this is what Christianity looks like in a post-religious, “spiritual-but-not-religious” place, bring it ON!!!”
At the day-long Saturday study session attended by about 100 people from the diocese, local Lutheran and United Churches, as well as Cathedral parishioners, Butler Bass predicted that the Christian Church will change in its form and practice because society has changed.
As the years go on, fewer and fewer people are attending religious services. She said that a social scientist recently suggested that the figure was down to nine or ten per cent of Canadians during any given week, and perhaps 21 per cent in the United States.
Some surveys find more people claim they come to church, but social scientists suggest many are simply not telling the truth. It seems they want to be known as church goers, but attend infrequently.
Whatever the real numbers, this is a huge shift from fourty years ago, when it appears that at least four times as many Canadians went to religious services – a number higher than attendance in the US at that time. “People simply don’t show up in the way they used to,” said Butler Bass.
For many Christians there is a sense of failure, and grief, but they shouldn’t feel this way, she said. The culture has changed. People often don’t have Sundays off, or if they do, they need a break from their hectic modern lives. Churches have tried all sorts of things to increase attendance. Very little seems to work.
Attendance is declining both in liberal parishes and conservative ones, in mega churches as well as tiny places, across almost all denominations. Many people are angry about religion, which a best-selling author, Christopher Hutchins, has declared “poisons everything.” While twelve years ago many people were willing to call themselves “religious,” now they prefer to be seen as “spiritual.”
Butler Bass told the gathering that Christians need to confront the facts that we are well into a post-Christian era, especially in “Cascadia” – Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.
Rather than despair, Butler Bass feels excited by the changes, and the continent might be on the cusp of a “Fourth Great Awakening.” But the church has to respond differently than it traditionally has, she believes. “The way we did church then doesn’t translate into now.”
Putting on her historian hat, she spoke about institutional religion, or the Church as we have known it for the past 200 years. She said it has had has had three basic characteristics: the three “B’s.+
First of all it has dealt with Believing: people have been taught what Christians believe, about God, about Christ, about the Church.
Second it has stipulated behaving: people have been taught what Christians should do, such as follow the Ten Commandments.
Thirdly, institutional religion has been about belonging, with the answer being that one belongs to a particular denomination, be it Anglican, Roman Catholic, United Church, or whatever.
She told a story of her 13-year-old daughter learning about confirmation classes in their Episcopal Church in Virginia. She would have to attend 12 classes on Saturday mornings, and then take an exam. Her daughter was concerned.
“What if I fail the exam?” she asked her mother. Would that mean she couldn’t be confirmed? That she couldn’t call herself a Christian? Butler Bass became quite annoyed, told the youth pastor at the church she was opposed to that approach, so the pastor asked her to teach the class.
She taught the session on the Apostle’s Creed, and focused on just the second word: “believe.”
What does it mean to believe, she asked the children. She talked about the language. A creed is so called because its first word, in Latin, is credo, which doesn’t just mean “I believe” as “I trust” or “I commit to.”
What does it mean, she asked the young teens, to say one trusts in God? That changed the whole emphasis, and engaged them. The Church of the Future will not so much be about people learning creeds about God as it will be about finding how they can come to trust and commit to God.
The institutional church “had it down,” said Butler Bass. Answers were certain. It had the creeds. It knew the answers to how to behave. People knew who they were and could put forward propositional statements of identity like, “I am an Anglican.”
But now people want an answers to the prepositional question, “Whose am I?” They want to know now is what to do. The need to know how to believe.
The old style of Christian formation was to ask the question, what do you believe, and then go on to how do you behave, and what denomination do you belong to. The new style reverses the order, first asking to whom do you belong, then what do you need to do, and finally how do you believe Christian doctrine.
Butler Bass said research seems to show that the only churches growing very much are focusing on the questions people today care about. Small, non-denominational groups are showing growth. These groups may not be less orthodox than mainline churches today, but they are more personal.
If his is the new shape of Christianity, what does the Church do with it organization and institutions, Butler Bass asked. She admitted she did not know. “I love questions,” she said, “but being an Episcopalian, I have very few answers.”
The Church of the future will be “reorganized, revitalized, renovated, and renewed,” she predicted. It can lead the way into a different sort of world, a more peaceful world, one in harmony with Planet Earth.
“If anybody is going to do it, it’s you,” she finished.
Notes by Neale Adam
Photo Credit: Bayne Stanley
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