Category : United Church of Christ

(Star-Tribune) Minnesota’s mainline Christian denominations face unprecedented declines

For 100 years, Lutherans in this farming community on the Minnesota prairie have come to one church to share life’s milestones.

They have been baptized, confirmed and married at La Salle Lutheran. Their grandparents, parents and siblings lie in the church cemetery next door.

But the old friends who gathered here early one recent Sunday never imagined that they would one day be marking the death of their own church.

When La Salle Lutheran locks its doors in August, it will become the latest casualty among fragile Minnesota churches either closing, merging or praying for a miracle. Steep drops in church attendance, aging congregations, and cultural shifts away from organized religion have left most of Minnesota’s mainline Christian denominations facing unprecedented declines.

“Sunday used to be set aside for church: that’s what families did,” said Donna Schultz, 74, a church member since grade school at La Salle, in southwest Minnesota. “Now our children have moved away. The grandkids have volleyball, dance on weekends. People are busy with other things….”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Methodist, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, United Church of Christ

(TGC) Alastair Roberts–Lessons from the Collapse of American Protestantism

Up through the 1960s, members and institutions of the Protestant mainline dominated American public life. To be sure, this dominance was not without serious issues””most notably, the exclusion of “Catholics, Jews, blacks, and atheists from nearly every position of influence in American life.” The significant demographic changes brought about by post-war immigration did nothing but exacerbate this problem.

Through these developments, influential mainline thinkers such as Harvey Cox and Paul Tillich responded by abandoning Christian particularism. Gleason writes:

They focused on the church’s social obligations, which they emphasized at the expense of the exclusivity and particularity of traditional doctrinal claims. In one famous formulation, Tillich argued that Christianity was just one of many ways to touch “the ground of being.” Symbols, religious and otherwise, all inadequately represented their ineffable subjects, but they also pointed beyond themselves to this ground of being, which Tillich called God. If Tillich was right, then mainline Protestants had no reason to distrust people of other faiths. Perhaps their beliefs were not so different after all.

This liberal thought was disseminated to millions of congregants by mainline Protestant clergy. They taught the values of “individualism, tolerance, pluralism, and emancipation from tradition”””and, in so doing, played a pivotal role in creating the culture in which we now live.

By virtue of their very “success,” however, mainline churches became a “vanishing mediator.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Church History, Episcopal Church (TEC), History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Theology, United Church of Christ

Chicago Theological Seminary welcomes Episcopal Church seminary to campus

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Religion News & Commentary, Episcopal Church (TEC), Other Churches, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology, United Church of Christ

(NYT Op-ed) Ross Douthat–Will Pope Francis bring a Springtime for Liberal Christianity?

He is certainly not a Marxist, and he’s not a “liberal” as American politics understands the terms. But he has been a gift to liberals who are also Christians, to religious believers whose politics lean left.

It’s a gift the religious left sorely needed, because the last few decades have made a marriage of Christian faith and liberal politics seem doomed to eventual divorce. Since the 1970s, the mainline Protestant denominations associated with progressive politics have experienced a steep decline in membership and influence, while American liberalism has become more secular and anti-clerical, culminating in the Obama White House’s battles with Francis’ own church. In the intellectual arena, religiously-inclined liberals have pined for a Reinhold Niebuhr without producing one, and the conservative fear that liberal theology inevitably empties religion of real power has found all-too-frequent vindication.

Pope Francis has not solved any of these problems. But his pontificate has nonetheless given the religious left a new lease on life. He has offered encouragement to Catholic progressives by modestly soft-pedaling the issues dividing his church from today’s liberalism ”” abortion and same-sex marriage ”” while elevating other causes and concerns.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Politics in General, Pope Francis, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Theology, United Church of Christ

William Smith–Who’s Scared of Polygamy? A Restrained Case for the “Slippery Slope” Argument

Polygamy may well make for a coalition of strange bedfellows drawn from across the religious and non-religious spectrum in the United States. If the so-called “mainline” churches repeat their same-sex marriage trajectory, they could well provide polygamy some hefty cultural and political ballast (though the impact of that support may not be quite as big as it was for same-sex marriage in light of the continued demographic decline of these denominations).

These Christians would, of course, also need to square their religious heritage around polygamy with the kinds of feminist critiques that informed the overhaul of monogamy during the past 50 or so years. The Reformation proponents of polygamy, after all, only had polygyny in mind, and a very male-dominated version at that. Protestants today would almost certainly need to consider polyandry and, to use a clunky term, polygynandry.

I agree with Douthat and Silk that Americans are going to need to think seriously about polygamy. Douthat is probably right in arguing that many of the arguments liberals put forth on behalf of same-sex marriage will be deployed on behalf of polygamy, but Silk is probably also correct that religious freedom claims will play a role as well. In any case, rather than let fear guide the conversation, perhaps we should embrace an honest, thorough, and thoughtful debate that will likely generate a new set of pro- and con- alliances from a diverse range of people and groups in the United States. It wouldn’t be a reformation of marriage without one.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Episcopal Church (TEC), Law & Legal Issues, Lutheran, Marriage & Family, Methodist, Other Churches, Philosophy, Politics in General, Presbyterian, Psychology, Sexuality, United Church of Christ

(World Magazine) Church, Inc: Mainline denominations with empty buildings enter the real estate Bus

The Church of the Intercession is a beautiful stone building constructed in 1915, with vaulted ceilings, large stained glass windows, and a nave that could seat several hundred. It now needs $1 million in repairs, and its members face difficult choices.

Outside this Episcopal church in Harlem is its sweeping cemetery that includes the grave of naturalist John Audubon. Inside on a Sunday only 42 worshippers, including the choir, were present. Almost everyone was elderly. There were three canes, one walker, and one child.

Those 42 seemed a megachurch in comparison with the congregation across the street in North Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). In its historic stone building Pastor Carmen Mason-Browne preached to an audience of six women in a room with space for several hundred. The women weren’t even sitting together, but spaced like strangers on an empty train.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, Theology, United Church of Christ

(JE) Mark Tooley–Mainline Protestant Decline and Hope

This year is an ignominious anniversary for Mainline Protestantism, commemorating a half century of continuous decline since their membership peaks in the early 1960s. Fifty years ago one of every six Americans belonged to the Seven Sisters of Mainline Protestantism. Today it’s one of every 16 and plunging. Membership has dropped from 30 million to 20 million during a time when Americas population has nearly doubled. And it did so despite Gallup Poll’s insistence that overall church attendance has remained essentially the same for about the last 80 years.

In our current post denominational age, many question why this decline matters. Who cares about the Mainline except the dwindling and increasingly aged members who remain? After all, haven’t evangelical churches, especially nondenominationals, plus Catholicism, more than filled the void? Wasn’t it time for the Mainline to leave the stage, having more than played its part in American and Christian history across 4 centuries? And in the end, didn’t they deserve their own demise?

The answers are yes and no.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Church History, History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Theology, United Church of Christ

(ARDA) David Briggs–Why hundreds of congregations made the final break with mainline denominations

It was not as if these congregations chose the most theologically conservative new homes.

The great majority of congregations leaving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) chose to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. Few chose to join the larger Presbyterian Church in America, which does not permit women clergy.

Similarly, congregations leaving the ELCA overwhelmingly bypassed the more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod denominations for the new Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ and the North American Lutheran Church.
Still, the future does not look bright for reconciliation, analysts noted.

“There is an exhaustion factor of having fought for decades,” Thompson said.

Among some denominational leaders, he said, there is a sense, “The bad guys have left.”

And leaders of congregations departing their former mainline Protestant denominations told Carthage researchers they were happy to be in a new place.

When the church leaders were asked if they had any regrets about their decision to leave, “The only thing they’d ever say is we should have left sooner.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Sociology, TEC Conflicts, TEC Departing Parishes, Theology, United Church of Christ

(R+P) Gene Zubovich–The Protestant Mainline Goes to Washington

On a Sunday morning this past October, some 1,500 preachers and ministers across the country joined in a nationwide protest they called Pulpit Freedom Sunday. They spoke defiantly from their pulpits about political campaigns and pending legislation. They even endorsed politicians, knowingly violating laws meant to prevent such mixing of church and state. Organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom, this group of evangelicals targeted the Johnson Amendment, which forbids tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates and getting involved in campaigns. By violating these rules in an act of civil disobedience, they hoped to trigger a court case to get the amendment overturned. The issue, as they see it, is too much involvement by the government in religious life. The government should not tell Christians how to run their businesses, how to teach their children, or””as the Pulpit Freedom Sunday protesters asserted””how to write their sermons.

These sermons of protest were part of a broader political mobilization among religious institutions in the United States in recent years. The number of “Nones”””those professing no religious affiliation””is on the rise, and a small but vocal group of atheists are challenging Christian displays in public spaces. And the Christian Right appears to be losing the battle on gay rights. In response, many of the leading conservative religious organizations are mobilizing politically while also shifting their strategy. Their new aim is to mark off a part of life that can remain Christian, to protect Christians as a minority that can stand apart from the demands of a national culture they see as being dominated by secularism. The Hobby Lobby case was only the most prominent example of this trend.

On the other hand, a broad swath of American Christians sees things entirely differently. Although they receive far less attention, members of the religious left do not feel besieged by their country. Instead, they are pushing law and politics in the very directions the religious right is resisting. The United Church of Christ filed suit in April 2014 to overturn the prohibition on gay marriage in North Carolina. In the same state, many ministers are participating in the “Moral Monday” campaigns, a movement that is saturated in religious language. And Jim Wallis and Cornel West were arrested last month for protesting police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri. Although the left differs with the right on cultural policy, both groups see political mobilization as being at the heart of religious thought and practice.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Politics in General, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Theology, United Church of Christ

(Sightings) Martin Marty–on the End of Elite Denominational Headquarters

Once upon a time, from the UUA on down, “Headquarters” buildings were statements of power: “Look! We are important! ”˜Notice us!’” But just as cathedrals don’t tower in an age of skyscrapers, so impressive-looking headquarters no longer draw notice. And “secularization” is only part of the reason for this change.

When we look at secular analogues, we see that newspaper and other publishing empires are down-sizing for many reasons, including digitalization and the demands and opportunities that come with the internet. Today denominational and agency business is largely transacted in ways that permit employees to work from home, committees to meet by Skype, Conference Call, and other digital means. Many in the “secular” public make up their minds about the power and value of religious works and workings not based on images of huge Interchurch Centers or denominational Power Houses, but based on what they do….

Planners in religious agencies may regret turning the key to close the Big House doors for the last time, but wise planners are using their skills and energies to advance their work through non-elite, less-strategically-located bases of operation.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Episcopal Church (TEC), History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Theology, United Church of Christ

(RNS) Alban Institute, a resource for mainline institutions, to shutter

As mainline Protestant denominations continue decades of decline, one of the main institutions helping educate its leaders announced Wednesday (March 19) that it will shut its doors.

Since it was founded four decades ago, the Virginia-based Alban Institute has guided mostly mainline congregations through consulting and publishing. Its founder and former president, the Rev. Loren Mead, became well-known for his speaking and writing about the future of U.S. denominations and was one of the first to predict denominational decline.

“When I started as a parish pastor, I found there wasn’t much help or continuing education,” said Mead, a retired Episcopal priest. “I am glad I have been able to contribute to the church, but I have not been able to solve its turnaround.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Ecclesiology, Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Sociology, Theology, United Church of Christ

(NY Times On Religion) Back After Losing His Church, and Still Supporting Same Sex Marriage

Three below zero on a Minnesota morning, and the Rev. Oliver White stomps the snow off his boots as he enters the stucco edifice of Clark Memorial United Church of Christ to lead worship. He peels off an overcoat to reveal the kente-cloth vestments his wife made for him, which match the kufi hat he wears.

On this Sunday midway between Christmas and New Year’s Day, he sees a congregation thinned by both vacation and weather. Perhaps 50 people fill the pews, yet in their modest number resides a startling range: a lesbian couple with their son; a 98-year-old man who still shovels his own sidewalk; the black and white relatives of a biracial baby about to be baptized.

“Good morning, and let’s have the church say, ”˜Amen,’ “ Mr. White, 71, begins, standing in the aisle rather than at the pulpit. Hearing the desultory response, he chides: “That was only half the church. Again?” The voices now rise, and he adds his own emphatic “Amen!”

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Ministry of the Ordained, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sacramental Theology, Sexuality, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths), Theology, Theology: Scripture, United Church of Christ

(Citizen-Times) Rob Neufeld looks start of churches in Western North Carolina

“In the western section of the diocese,” the Rev. John Stark Ravenscroft told North Carolina Episcopalians in 1825, “the prospect (of advancing the faith) is very discouraging, though not without hope.”

“Spiritual destitution” is how Bishop Levi Silliman Ives characterized our region’s religious landscape 19 years later, though the physical landscape was “beautiful and striking, far beyond my powers of description.”

Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians had made great spiritual progress in Western North Carolina as early as the 18th century. Samuel Edney, head of the Methodist church’s Swannanoa circuit, established the first camp meeting west of the Blue Ridge in what is now Edneyvillle in the 1790s; in 1797, the Rev. George Newton turned Asheville’s Union Hill Academy into a Presbyterian school named after him. The French Broad Baptist Church was organized in Henderson County in 1780, and regional churches formed the French Broad Baptist Association in 1807.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Baptists, Church History, Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ

(RNS) Cathy Grossman–Mainline Protestants: Vintage or vibrant?

Half a century ago, the denominations under the mainline umbrella dominated the American faith landscape. Now, after decades of declining numbers, only about one in five U.S. adults identifies with a mainline denomination such as United Methodists, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA) and American Baptists.

Could replacing the “mainline” name help stem the slide? The challenge came from scholar and Presbyterian pastor Carol Howard Merritt. Writing in the venerable Christian Century magazine, she called for a new brand that conveys her view of the mainline’s rising diversity and social justice leadership.

“The image of an all-white, elitist church is not going to fly for generations to come,” said Merritt, an author and speaker who lives in Chattanooga, Tenn. “’Mainline’ was a good historic marker but the future needs to reflect who we are now.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, United Church of Christ

(Christian Century) Martin Marty–From declinism to discovery

Finitude, contingency, transience. These three linked words signal basic elements of what it is to be a human””and especially to be a historian. David Tracy, noted theologian and next door study-neighbor, taught me this connection, and I’ve let it color my life and scholarly preoccupations. It will help us interpret the almost reflexive use of the rubric “decline” in relation to the western Christian presence. Specifically, do a search for “mainline Protestant” and “decline” and you will get the picture, millions of times over.

Everything and everyone dies, is subject to accidents and change, and all human endeavor will pass and be forgotten. What can a church historian do with this obvious insight at such a time as ours? Given my parallel calling as a peregrinating lecturer, I use the vantage acquired there to try to sense the comings and goings of topics for inquiry. One way to measure public curiosity is to listen to questions asked after a lecture.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Episcopal Church (TEC), History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, United Church of Christ

A Religious Legacy, With Its Leftward Tilt, Is Reconsidered

ome scholars with roots in more traditional churches caution against overstating the importance of liberal religion. The recent work on the subject is “a nice rebalancing of the historiographical ledgers,” said Mark Noll, a historian of religion at Notre Dame and a prominent evangelical intellectual. But for a tradition to have any continuing influence, he added, it needs committed bodies in the pews.

That point is seconded by Ms. Coffman, who worked as an editor at Christianity Today before entering academia. She currently teaches at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian institution where pastors in training, she said, are less likely to be savoring their broad cultural victories than debating which elements of evangelical worship they should adopt to attract a viable congregation.

“I teach at a mainline seminary, and we do not feel very triumphal,” Ms. Coffman said.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Education, Episcopal Church (TEC), History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, United Church of Christ

Barton Swain reviews Elesha Coffman's "The Christian Century + the Rise of the Protestant Mainline"

The first known use of the word “mainline” to describe the largest Protestant denominations and distinguish them from their growing evangelical and fundamentalist counterparts appeared in the New York Times in 1960””at the very moment when mainline Protestantism began its rapid decline. You don’t call something “mainline” or “mainstream” unless its supremacy is being disputed (think of the “mainstream media”). And the supremacy of older, more socially prestigious churches within American Protestantism was being directly disputed in the mid-1950s. It’s impossible to speak with precision about what constituted mainline Christianity, but in general the mainline churches de-emphasized doctrinal differences; were Northern and Midwestern rather than Southern; promoted social causes rather than personal conversion or repentance; and virtually always took the liberal line in politics. By 1960, liberal Protestantism enjoyed almost nothing of the authority that had seemed unassailable 15 years earlier.

In “The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline,” Elesha Coffman charts the half-century ascendancy of liberal Protestantism in American society from its beginnings in northern seminaries at the turn of the 20th century to its brief triumphant moment immediately after World War II, when it had no effective rival. She does this through the lens of the magazine that, in the absence of any formal governing body, was effectively this strand of Protestantism’s voice and conscience: the Christian Century.

Read it all (if needed another link is there).

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Books, Church History, Episcopal Church (TEC), History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, United Church of Christ

(Bap. Stan.) Vicki Brown–Denominations””dying or transforming into something new?

“Denominationalism is not dead but, increasingly, it’s only one of several options for organizing the church in America,” explained Baptist historian Bill Leonard, the James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and professor of church history at Wake Forest School of Divinity.

Increasing pluralism in the United States and the decreasing influence of Protestantism are forcing denominational leaders to ask hard questions about identity, viability and relevance.

Pluralism, “which Baptists helped put into place,” is becoming more normative, Leonard said. The rise of the “nones”””people with no connection to organized religion”” also plays into the challenges denominations face.

Gone are the days when communities formulated policy and activities around the church. “We are living through the death rattle of the Protestant privilege,” Leonard said.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Baptists, Disciples of Christ, Evangelicals, History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, United Church of Christ

(Sojourners) 'Here is the Steeple:' Church Leaders Take on Sexual Violence Within Their Walls

When it comes to leading denominational conversations on sexual violence, clergy across traditions express twin reactions: encouragement over the protocols already in place and the efforts of fellow advocates; and frustration with a culture of silence around sexual violence in the church. Despite strikingly different experiences across denominations ”” and church by church ”” the clergy, church staff, and seminarians who spoke with Sojourners are in agreement that addressing this issue in one’s own house is complicated at every level.

First, the good news: Several major Protestant denominations, across progressive and fundamentalist strains, subscribe to a practice of what the United Methodist Church calls “safe sanctuary” ”” a commitment to ensure their church buildings and leadership are free from sexual predators. These policies generally include running background checks on any volunteers working with children and establishing protocols (many developed by Marie Fortune and the Faith Trust Institute) for interpersonal interaction at the church.

These denominational policies are the first line of defense against abuse, particularly of children, in houses of worship. So what else, if anything, beyond this basic groundwork is needed from leadership?

This is where consensus breaks down, and in speaking with clergy and seminarians across denominations and traditions, various barriers and fear patterns were revealed.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Sexuality, TEC Bishops, Theology, United Church of Christ, Violence

(Inside High Ed) Libby Nelson–The Struggling Seminaries

At first, Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., could see itself as exempt from the economic forces shaking seminaries and theological schools nationwide. Luther is the biggest seminary for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States. Among its peers, it had a reputation for being innovative. Individual donors continued to give, and its local area — in one of the country’s most Lutheran states — was supportive.

Last fall, though, it all came crashing down. Enrollments were dropping. The seminary found it was running multimillion-dollar deficits, spending down its endowment and relying on loans. In December, its president, the Rev. Dr. Richard Bliese, resigned, as the seminary’s board began to look at options to trim at least $4 million from the seminary’s $27 million annual budget.

The results were announced…[not long ago]: layoffs for 18 of its 125 staff members, many effective within a few weeks; the voluntary departure of 8 of 44 faculty members at the end of the academic year, who will not be replaced; the termination of a master’s program in sacred music; and the decision to no longer admit Ph.D students for at least three years.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Education, Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Methodist, Ministry of the Ordained, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Seminary / Theological Education, Stewardship, Theology, United Church of Christ

Will Willimon on Lamin Sanneh's experience after his Conversion

[Lamin] Sanneh acknowledges a debt to the missionary schools that unintentionally introduced him to a desiccated version of Christian faith, and he tells how as an earnest young man he wandered from pastor to pastor, desperately seeking baptism, only to be deflected by missionaries who had compromised mission in their uneasy accommodation to Islamic culture. The story would almost be humorous if it were not so sad. Yet even the account of the missionaries’ rebuff is less painful to read than the account of what he received at the hands of liberal, mainline North American pastors who had long before enmeshed themselves in their culture by reducing their ministry to caregiving rather than conversion. As for many frustrated would-be converts in our age, it was easier for Sanneh to find Christ than for him to find Christian community. Eventually he became a Catholic while at Yale.

–Will Willimon in a review of Lamin Sanneh’s new Summoned From the Margin (Eerdmans, 2012), Christian Century, the October 17th, 2012 issue, page 53 (emphasis mine)

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Africa, Books, Disciples of Christ, Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Methodist, Muslim-Christian relations, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology, United Church of Christ

(Tennessean) Liberal churches show signs of strength in Nashville

[The Rev. Eric] Greenwood, rector of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, says his denomination has its troubles. But it is still a force for good in the world.

“Everybody gets all excited about sex in the church,” he said. “But the good work that gets done in the name of God and our lord Jesus Christ, it will take your breath away.”

Nationwide, the numbers don’t look good for the Episcopal Church and other mainline Protestant denominations, most of which tend to hold more liberal beliefs. From 2000 to 2010, most suffered double-digit percentage declines in membership, leading some to wonder if those denominations can be saved in the future.

But in Nashville, those mainline churches have showed surprising strength and have grown in membership over the past decade.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, TEC Parishes, Theology, United Church of Christ

(Christian Century) Amy Frykholm–David Hollinger on what the mainline achieved

We’ve become so accustomed to the narrative of “mainline decline” that it is difficult to get our minds around a more nuanced version of this story. How do you tell this story?

The ecumenical leaders achieved much more than they and their successors give them credit for. They led millions of American Protestants in directions demanded by the changing circumstances of the times and by their own theological tradition. These ecumenical leaders took a series of risks, asking their constituency to follow them in antiracist, anti-imperialist, feminist and multicultural directions that were understandably resisted by large segments of the white public, especially in the Protestant-intensive southern states.

It is true that the so-called mainstream lost numbers to churches that stood apart from or even opposed these initiatives, and ecumenical leaders simultaneously failed to persuade many of their own progeny that churches remained essential institutions in the advancement of these values.

But the fact remains that the public life of the United States moved farther in the directions advocated in 1960 by the Christian Century than in the directions then advocated by Christianity Today. It might be hyperbolic to say that ecumenists experienced a cultural victory and an organizational defeat, but there is something to that view. Ecumenists yielded much of the symbolic capital of Christianity to evangelicals, which is a significant loss. But ecumenists won much of the U.S. There are trade-offs.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Church History, Ecumenical Relations, Episcopal Church (TEC), Evangelicals, History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, United Church of Christ

(UCC Minister) Emily Heath–The Mainline Church and Dusty Feet, a Sermon

Jesus is sending out his disciples to the people….[and he concludes by saying] if they are rejected, if… [those to whom they speak]…refuse to hear what they are saying, to leave. And he tells them that as they walk away they should shake the dust off their feet as a sign that they had not been welcomed.

Its sort of a Leadership Principles of Jesus 101 class. As much as you want consensus, as much as you want everyone to join you, that won’t always happen. And sometimes you have to just move forward and do the right thing anyway.

I was thinking about this last week. I was watching the webcast of the biannual national meeting of my former denomination, the Presbyterian Church. It’s a church I still love, but I, like many others, had my own moment of shaking the dust from my feet in order to join a church that was truly committed to moving forward and embracing all in their ministry.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Ministry of the Ordained, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths), United Church of Christ

United Church of Christ Backs Comprehensive Sexuality Education Plan for Youth

The PACHA resolution states that only programs with the best scientific information be funded, and that the government should uphold the rights of young people to have access to information in order to make healthy and responsible decisions about their sexual health.

The UCC officials issued objections in their Friday endorsement, however, specifically $5 million in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Economy, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Other Churches, Politics in General, Sexuality, Teens / Youth, The U.S. Government, Theology, United Church of Christ

(The Revealer) Daniel Schultz–What does Rowan Williams’s resignation mean for American Anglicans?

If you believe, as most Americans do, that the upper reaches of the church don’t have much to do with the ground floor, the next Archbishop of Canterbury will have mostly trivial interest to you. Perhaps it will be John Sentamu, and the ECUSA is in for the deep-freeze. Perhaps it will be a conciliator or a caretaker. Perhaps it will be someone with an even more lush and vigorous patch of Muppet fur insulating his brows from the slings and arrows of church leadership. Who’s to say? But Easter will come, just as it did this year. There will be babies to baptize, teens to confirm, crappy church coffee to be drunk (maybe good sherry if you’re in the right congregation), and ministry to be done, regardless of who fills Williams’ seat.

But if you believe, as many Americans do, that it is of the utmost importance to speak with one voice on women in ministry, or the place of gays and lesbians in the church””if you believe that without a common creed and ethics and way of reading scripture, there’s no point in calling it a “church”””well then, you’re in for a very interesting six months or so. It’s unlikely that you’ll get a champion of orthodoxy like Benedict, and probably not such a fierce champion of unity-at-all-costs as Williams. You may have to face the same uncomfortable ideas that the rest of us are confronted with: that there is no single voice for Christianity, that Christ’s prayer “that they may all be one” is and always has been a fond wish and ardent desire but never a fact on the ground, that Christianity as a world movement has not produced a standard culture but has shaped and been shaped by many different cultures in many different ways, to the detriment of its coherence. But at this point, who the hell knows? You may find somebody who can bring it all back together, or (more likely), you may find another weak leader committed to togetherness in principle but unable to do much about it in practice. Either way, good luck, and definitely let us know if you find somebody with bigger eyebrows than Rowan Williams. We’ll want to be warned about that right away.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, - Anglican: Commentary, --Rowan Williams, America/U.S.A., Archbishop of Canterbury, Ecclesiology, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Theology, United Church of Christ

The RCRC Press Release Supporting "White House on Contraceptive Coverage In Health Care Reform"

Together, the leaders of these Christian, Jewish and Muslim national organizations affirmed:

“We stand with President Obama and Secretary Sebelius in their decision to reaffirm the importance of contraceptive services as essential preventive care for women under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and to assure access under the law to American women, regardless of religious affiliation. We respect individuals’ moral agency to make decisions about their sexuality and reproductive health without governmental interference or legal restrictions. We do not believe that specific religious doctrine belongs in health care reform ”“ as we value our nation’s commitment to church-state separation. We believe that women and men have the right to decide whether or not to apply the principles of their faith to family planning decisions, and to do so they must have access to services. The Administration was correct in requiring institutions that do not have purely sectarian goals to offer comprehensive preventive health care. Our leaders have the responsibility to safeguard individual religious liberty and to help improve the health of women, their children, and families. Hospitals and universities across are respected and that their students and employees have access to this basic health care service. We invite other religious leaders to speak out with us for universal coverage of contraception.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, --The 2009 American Health Care Reform Debate, Children, Episcopal Church (TEC), Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Methodist, Office of the President, Other Churches, Politics in General, Presbyterian, President Barack Obama, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Science & Technology, United Church of Christ

Mainline Churches go the Wrong Way on the Stunningly Coercive Contraception Bill

The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, along with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which includes the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ, have stunningly endorsed Obamacare’s mandate that all religious hospitals and charities must provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization, despite religious objections.

In contrast, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, National Association of Evangelicals, Southern Baptist and Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod leaders and others have condemned the mandate as an assault on religious liberty. Megachurch pastor Rick Warren has declared: “I’d go to jail rather than cave in to a government mandate that violates what God commands us to do.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Episcopal Church (TEC), Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, United Church of Christ

(Tribal Church) Carol Howard Merritt–Perspectives on the young clergy crisis

Since I’ve been chairing a national Presbyterian Church (USA) committee on the Nature of the Church for the 21st century, I’ve been gaining a different perspective on many of the larger trends of our denomination. One thing that has been difficult to realize (and equally difficult to communicate to the larger church) is the young clergy crisis.

Why would I call it a crisis? We’ve known for a long time about the startling decline of young clergy. The drop-out rates don’t help (I can’t find hard and fast stats on this… but some claim that about 70% of young clergy drop out within the first five years of ministry, usually because of lack of support or financial reasons). The average age of a pastor in the PCUSA is 53. And I’ve realized that the age of our leadership might be much higher.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Aging / the Elderly, Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Methodist, Middle Age, Ministry of the Ordained, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology, United Church of Christ, Young Adults

(RNS) Mainline Protestants seek reforms, stir anger

A list of the Episcopal Church’s 75 commissions, committees, agencies and boards spilled over eight PowerPoint slides during a recent presentation by its new chief operating officer, Bishop Stacy Sauls.

By his count, there are also nearly 50 departments and offices in the church’s New York headquarters, and 46 committees in its legislative body, the General Convention.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Pastoral Theology, Presbyterian, TEC Bishops, Theology, United Church of Christ