Our Quest for Faithful Presence

Dear St Luke’s,

This Sunday after worship we will start a three-week Community Forum series titled, “Conversations After Church: Post-Christendom, Post-modernism & Why people don’t Trust the Church Anymore.” 

To my ear the title “Conversations After Church” is a playful phrase that can be heard in multiple ways. Besides the fact that our Community Forum is literally a conversation after our church’s main gathering, we are also going to be conversing to better understand the larger Western cultural rejection of the Church’s authority, narrative, and values… “after church.”  Here is my plan for our three sessions:

Session 1 (this Sunday) – What is being evoked by saying “After Christendom”?

Session 2 (next week) – The “Big Why” of the Church After Christendom?

Session 3 (Feb 5th) – What Communal Presence, Practices, & Postures Might be Invited After Christendom

After talking with a few folks who would like to be part of these conversations back can’t be here for all three weeks, I thought it might be helpful to offer a brief summary of what I am planning on presenting each week in our eNews.  As listed above, we begin by asking, “What is being evoked by saying ‘After Christendom’?” I consider it important for us to have a sense of the larger evolving story in which we find ourselves.  This story is far bigger than St Luke’s, than Lutheranism, or even Protestantism. 

We’ll bring this living and evolving story into focus.  Beginning with the early church (New Testament & first 3 centuries), we saw local of groups of Jesus’ followers gather, love, and serve on the margins of society but changed.  By the end of the 4th century we see Christianity is transformed into a burgeoning religion.  It was during this season that “state & church” were wed.  And for the first time the church got a taste of real political and economic power.  Then we’ll listen to the rise of some of the movements, groups, and ideas that began to challenge the church’s authority, its truth claims, its use of power, and even its necessity. 

At the heart of our cultural moment is the question of the “necessity of church.”  To put it another way, it’s within a culture of eroding institutional trust that we as St Luke’s are listening for our collective future. 

From here we will move into conversation together. 

My hope for our conversation this Sunday is that we might help each other move toward a shared understanding of where we are at this cultural moment, and how we got here.  While this conversation is a little bit meta, I feel it’s important to see that we as a congregation are located within a larger evolving story, and that this story seems to have a trajectory (or a few). 

So that’s my current imagination for Session 1… this weekend. 

My intention here is not so much to provide the definitive description of life after Christendom, but to have enough of a sense of the narrative arc that we can begin to look to the future with greater clarity for what is likely to come our way.  I sense that understanding this larger story can help us wisely anticipate some of the challenges and changes on our horizon.  Anticipating such changes enables us to prepare.  Preparation means that the changes or challenges – which could have caught us off guard – can become opportunities for following the Spirit into faithful presence.  I also hope that we can create some shared language that might better enable us to talk about our experiences which might better prepare us for collectively discerning our future.

I am convinced that Christ’s church will thrive into the future.  My hope is not in our doctrines, music, liturgies, traditions, buildings, denominations, or even Christianity as a religion, rather my faith is in the God all these things point toward.  Throughout Scripture and our own lives the Divine reminds us over and over again that God makes all things new, that God is with us. 

Always remember my friend, you are beloved, you are not alone, and you belong.

Peace, dwight