THE STATE OF THE CHURCH: SO NOW WHAT?
The following is adapted from the third of three articles I
wrote for my church newsletter this summer. This article, written for the
September newsletter, completes the series.
For the June newsletter I wrote about how the Church in the
United States has shrunk in numbers and influence over the past half century.
For the July newsletter, I wrote about some of the reasons why the early Church
grew in numbers and influence. This month, I share with you a challenge and a
hope. It's our turn now... to "Prepare the way for the Lord" (as John
the Baptist says.)
Do you want to witness the lowering of anxiety, tension and
violence in our country? A lowering of the suicide rate? A lessening of social
injustice? Do you desire people getting along with other people? Do you desire
some sort of renewal to take place? If you do, there's a way you can help to
make those things happen. And it begins with your willingness to walk the path
of Jesus, the path toward peace.
So you may ask, How do I do that? What steps do I need to take
in order to help bring calm and peace, maybe not to the whole world, but into
my family, my community, my workplace?
Well, you've already started. You are a member or a friend of
Immanuel Lutheran Church. That's a start. But now you need to
"activate" that membership, and then celebrate often, deepen your
learning, participate wholeheartedly, and get involved in the faith community's
Activate! Being an ILC member is not like being a member of a
social organization. Why? Because we are a faith community that comes together
on a weekly basis around an on-going gift from God. As a community, we are more
than "members"; we are neighbors - neighbors who can be counted on to
celebrate picnics and happy times and be there in times of need and sadness.
Celebrate! Make it a point to come once a week to ILC to a
worship service. Celebrate (say thank you) for the life and opportunities God
has given you. Make confession of those moments in the week that you coveted
and perhaps directly or indirectly caused division or harm. Contemplate some
readings that, though they were written a very long time ago, still very much
apply today. Pray for others and yourself. And receive the gift of forgiveness.
Come for Holy Communion during which God connects you with God's self and your
neighbor. And then go into another week, renewed and with the call to be the
gospel for others who come your way.
Learn! Make it a point to learn what it means to be Christian
and what it means to follow the path of Christ. Come often to Adult Forum or
Sunday School, Middle School Forum or High School Forum. Start a bible study
group at home in your neighborhood. Dig into and compare / contrast what it
means to be Christian with what it means to be a follower of another religion
or philosophy. Let that faith seed grow with in! (Some time, I need to write
about how I fully support the theory of evolution with my full dedication to
Participate! Participate in the life of our faith community. No
one's a "bench (pew) warmer"! To make community happen, to make
worship and learning, fellowship and service opportunities happen, and even for
the grounds and building to be in good shape - your faith community needs you!
Reach Out! We come together as a faith community to learn and
enrich our faith. But there is yet another reason. God calls us together to do
ministry in the community. God calls us together to serve the larger community
- Dixon and the surrounding area. There's Habitat and the food pantry, PADS and
Buddy Bags, homeless folks and people in desperate need. God want us - as a
community - to get involved, to roll up our sleeves (so to speak), and get to
work serving those around us.... But what types of ministry can we be doing
today that is not currently happening in our area? How does God want us to get
involved and reach out with the gospel through our hands and feet (and sweat!)?
Bottom-line. The Renewal of our society - as well as the Church -
begins with you and me. God is waiting on us to say, "Here we are, Lord,
send us!" It begins with you and me choosing to participate in the life of
ILC on a weekly basis. It begins with you and me choosing to deepen and enrich
that faith seed planted at our baptisms. It begins with all of us - as a faith
community - choosing and then developing ministries that will assist and
enhance others' lives. It begins with you and me not just coming to church...
but being the Church.
On Sunday, September 15, we will gather as a faith community for
worship (10am) and for a church picnic. It will be a time to get to know one
another, share some laughs and celebrate. Grill-cooked hot dogs and hamburgers
are the main menu. Bring your lawn chair. Come have some fun! And let's get
that renewal started!
Take care. God bless.
- David Schweppe
THE STATE OF THE CHURCH: LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
The following is adapted from the second of three articles I
wrote for my church newsletter this summer.
Last time, I wrote to you about the situation of today's Church
in our society. It appears to be on the decline - in numbers, in status, and in
relevancy. We, the ones who still claim our Christian identity, find ourselves
in a precarious spot. We need to figure out how to respond to a society that
seems more and more "anti-Christian." At the end of my first article,
I proposed that perhaps we can get some answers from the Church's past. This
article takes us back to the first few centuries of the Church, when the Church
was not welcomed, and yet grew. The article does rely heavily on an Orthodox
Christian Network article called, "Four Reasons Why Christianity Grew So
From its inception Christianity was despised and rejected. In the
view of non-Christians, Christians did not contribute to the stability and
welfare of the state. They were, as historian Edward Gibbon wrote, a
"disruptive and , most significantly, a competitive menace to the
traditional... order of Roman society." Christians did not participate in
anything involving other gods. They did not participate in feast days. They did
not offer incense to the Roman emperor. They "privatized" their
religion - moved their activities from the streets to more secluded spots. And
they practiced an inclusivity not found in the social caste system of the Roman
Empire. All of this led to an understanding that Christians were hostile to the
rest of society and needed to be dealt with.
And so, from time to time, Roman emperors and magistrates
persecuted Christian communities. Nero, Trajan, Aurelius, Maximus, Decius,
Valerian, Diocletian, and others each made moves to eliminate the
"menace" that threatened to destabilize the empire.
And yet, the Church grew. It continued to gain adherents. It
continued to gain influence. It continued to gain relevancy. How? And why? If
you were to say, "Well, the Holy Spirit was involved," I would agree
with you. But in what ways was the Holy Spirit working to build up the Church,
the body of Christ?
In his book, The Rise of Christianity (1996), Rodney Stark, a
sociologist of religion, discusses four reasons for Christianity's growth. The
four reasons are 1) the development of social networks; 2) caring for the sick;
3) a stance against adultery, abortion and infanticide; and 4) a theology of
Social Networks. Religious conversions happen through social
networks. They happen "through a structure of direct and intimate
interpersonal attachments." The everyday friendships and personal
interactions of average believers makes the greatest difference.
Caring for the Sick, Widows, and Orphans. Instead of fleeing
from natural disasters or from community-wide sicknesses (such as the Plague),
Christians stayed in their communities providing food, water, and shelter for
Christian and non-Christian alike. This sent a powerful message to the
non-Christians who received help. Over time, more and more non-Christians - who
received this Christian aid - converted to the Christian faith that was
dedicated to acts of service.
Stance against Adultery, Abortion and Infanticide. In the Roman
world, married men could sleep with other women (especially slaves and
prostitutes), and the unwanted offspring of these unions were usually aborted
or simply left to die from exposure after birth. Christians spoke out against
these practices, exhorting the followers of Jesus to remain faithful in
marriage and to care for the most vulnerable members of society: newborns. Some
Christians would even rescue abandoned babies, raising them as their own.
A Theology of Love. Engaging your neighbor, caring for the sick,
protecting the baby (and the innocent) - these actions were founded upon a
deeply rooted theology of love. Early Christians insisted that the one God
loves the world (the universe). They also strongly believed that God desires
those who love him to also love their fellow human beings. Embracing an
all-encompassing ethic of love, practicing what Jesus taught, persuaded others
to ask, "Why are you doing that?" And that led to a conversation, which
led to some thinking and praying, which led to a baptism and another individual
following in Jesus' footsteps.
According to Stark, by implementing these four principles, the
church grew from around 1,000 people in 40 CE to around 25-30 million by the
fourth century - despite all the challenges of the ancient world.
So here it is: the regular witness of ordinary, every-day
Christian people connecting with their neighbor (Christian and non-Christian
alike), tending to the poor, the orphans, and the sick of their own
communities, and holding to an ethic of life and love contributed to early
Christianity's tremendous growth. Coming to church and coming often does have its
place - we need to worship as a community, we need to learn as a community, and
we need to have time together as a community of faith. But to be truly faithful
to God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ also entails being the Church -
manifesting God's love in the world. THAT is the key to the early Church's
Think about it. Pray about it. Act on it!
- David Schweppe
THE STATE OF THE CHURCH: FIRST, A REALITY CHECK
The following is adapted from the first of three articles I
wrote for my church newsletter this summer.
Have you ever had ideas in your head that are there, but you
can't get them out into the open, written on paper or spoken to others clearly?
That's kind of where I am with what I'm about to write. Last year at this time,
I started a two year term call here at Immanuel. Already, one of those years
has quickly passed by. With that anniversary having come and gone, I'd like to
share something that has been on my mind and on my heart for a very long time.
It may come off as a bit of rambling, but, hopefully, you'll bear with me and
read through what I've got to say. And maybe, just maybe, at the end of it all,
you'll know me a little better and know my hopes and aspirations for the
future. By the way, today's article is part one of three. There is a purpose for
this being a three-part series. It's ending will hopefully be a beginning....
This year, on August 20, I will celebrate my 30th year of
ordination (being a pastor). During those thirty years, I have served five
congregations/ parishes: Sherman Lutheran Parish in South Dakota; St. John
Lutheran Church in Elizabeth, Illinois; Messiah Lutheran Church in Aledo,
Illinois; Zion Lutheran Church in Kewanee, Illinois; and now Immanuel Lutheran
Church in Dixon, Illinois. I have also spent about two years as a pulpit supply
pastor and one+ years as Immanuel's interim minister before I accepted the term
When I went into the ministry, I went because I loved God and
loved God's people. And, truthfully, I though it'd be fun. Having grown up in a
regularly attending church family (my home church was Grace Lutheran Church in
Villa Park, Illinois), I brought with me all the impressions of church that
come with that upbringing... only I'd get to be the pastor and preach and teach
and share the Good News. My idealism at the time just knew that the Church
would soon experience a reformation, a renewal of sorts, that would bring in
all the so-called unchurched... and the "inactives" too. And the
world would be a better place.
That renewal never came. In fact, over the past 30 years (and
really since the 1960s), church attendance and Church relevancy in our society
declined. When I became a pastor in 1989, the ELCA included over 11,000
congregations, and the church I currently serve had an average weekly
attendance of 353 (it topped out at 369 in 1987). Thirty years later, the ELCA
now has slightly more than 8,000 congregations, and my church's average weekly
attendance hovers in the 120s. Back in the 1990s, the Sunday school included
over 90 students; this past year a handful attended.
My church is not alone, and the ELCA is not alone in the decline
of attendance and membership. Congregations of all denominations are facing the
same situation - declines in attendance, small to no Sunday schools, a depleted
volunteer based, and financial struggles. Even the so-called mega-churches of
the 1990s and early 2000s have diminished to far less than their former selves.
And all of us - Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and
Fundamentalist - are facing a society far different from the society of 1989.
In our post-modern post-Christian post 9-11 world, we now face a society that
is far less inclined to view the Church as a positive force... despite the
Church's willingness to accommodate society's ever-changing values. Indeed, the
word "Christian" often takes on a negative overtone for many because
it has become synonymous with words such as bigot, homophobe, sexist, racist,
etc. etc. Sex scandals, the seeming allergic reaction by many churches to the
LGBTQ+ community, and the politicization of the church, among other things,
have all contributed to the negative overtone.
We also face a society that is far more multicultural than back
in 1989. People from all parts of the world - Mexico, South America, Asia,
African, the Caribbean, the Middle East, even Australia and Canada! - have
changed the very make up of the US population. They all have brought their own
ideas, their own customs, their own beliefs to America. And with all that
variety, anyone born after 1980 knows there's more than one game in town.
And speaking of games, sports has become the one activity that
everyone can get behind; it has become the glue that brings communities
together (when a hundred years ago, that glue was the church). Within the past
decade, youth sports has entered Sunday mornings as an optional activity
instead of "going to church." And in so doing, sports activities,
many of which have compulsory activities on Sundays, have taken even die-hard
Christians from their worship on Sundays.
One more thing. Given all the changes, people have discovered
that nothing happens to them if they don't go to church. No lightning strike.
No real-life consequences... or so it seems. The resulting attitude is: Why
participate when I can believe in God and not participate?
This all leads to one simple truth - what's left of the Church
finds itself in a precarious situation. How do we best respond (not react) to
the current situation? Maybe, just maybe, we can get some answers from the
Church's past. We'll talk about that in the next article.
Until next time - Think about it. Pray about it. Act on it!
- David Schweppe
OF COOLING, WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE
By David Schweppe
February 15, 2019
I remember when The Weather Machine (1975) was on PBS back when I was in junior high school. I even requested a received a booklet that contained a summary of the show. I'm still looking through my stuff to find that booklet. In the late seventies we had the evidence and the leading scientists were certain that we were entering another period of global cooling. The winters of 1978 and 1979 as well as the winters of the early and mid eighties just added to the evidence.
And then it... stopped. The extremely hot drought of the summer of 1987 may have marked the change. Mt. Pinatubo blew in 1991 (I think I remember hearing something about that eruption would stalled the climb in temperatures, not sure on that).
The big issue in the 1970s was sulfur dioxide and other pollutants. So we worked on that and our air got cleaner (we sent the polluting factories to east Asia.)
In the 1980s it was the ozone hole. We were all going to fry if something wasn't done about fluorocarbons. So we got rid of aerosols. (The ozone hole is supposed to be "healed" in a few years - was that because of our decrease in use of fluorocarbons or was that due to "climate change"? Could make the argument either way.)
By the 1990s I remember experiencing warmer winters. Al Gore wrote his first book, published in time for the 1992 primaries, called Earth in the Balance (1991). Global Warming became more of "a thing," especially by the mid-2000s when we experienced the 2005 hurricane season with Hurricane Katrina. Aerosols and SO2 were no longer the highlighted pollutants; CO2 made its way to the top of the danger list. By that time also Hollywood got into the game with movies in which the climate disasters were human caused. And, of course, Al Gore remade himself as the Climate Prophet with his book and movie, An Inconvenient Truth (2006?). He even made several predictions of what would happen climate-wise over the course of then next decade.
But something happened. The increase in temps "paused." (Others, including NASA say there has not been a pause.) And Al Gore's predictions of Arctic ice being gone by now, along with other dire predictions, did not occur. Add to that, in 2009 "Climategate" came public - word got out that collected data was being manipulated to show more warming than there really was.
A few years later (to my recollection), the phrase "global warming" was replaced with "climate change." And proponents made sure "human-caused" was added to the phrase "climate change." And during this time something else also began to occur - those who were skeptical about "human-caused" climate change were deemed "climate deniers." Even President Obama on August 31, 2015 used the label against anyone skeptical about humans being the cause of climate change. Climate Change / Global Warming was no longer was a debate concerning science; it began to take on the attributes of a religion. You don't accept and adhere to the truths of Climate Change? You are a heretic, a "denier." At the very least, you will be ostracized. Some even went so far as to say "climate denial" should be a punishable crime. There's a play entitled, "Kill Climate Deniers." And the New York Times in November 2018 stated that climate denialism is a depravity (google "climate deniers should be killed"). A crime? Be killed? Depravity? Science is about seeking the truth not forcing individuals into a set of beliefs. By truth I mean things like 1+1=2 and 2H2 + O2 = 2H2O.
I encourage you to watch The Weather Machine (1975). At the time, the scientists involved were absolutely certain of their findings. Just as Al Gore was absolutely certain of the argument he made back in 2006.
Then watch the latest PBS show, "The Incredible Weather Machine." Just be aware that forty or so years from now the scientists in IWM may well be proven wrong to a degree or three... just like those scientists from the 1970s who were involved in the making of the first Weather Machine documentary.
And one more thing. Just as there is a call for separation of church and state, there should be a call for separation of science and state. Science has become politicized through funding and lobbyists. That funding and lobbying taints and biases the results... even if the results hold true.