It’s sad to see an­other church close, but af­ter 2,000 years of tur­bu­lent his­tory Chris­tian­ity’s death is much ex­ag­ger­ated

Belfast Telegraph - - REVIEW -

PHILIP Larkin, in his beau­ti­ful poem Church Go­ing, de­scribed a church as “A se­ri­ous house on se­ri­ous earth...”, and many peo­ple will agree with him.

A church is in­deed a se­ri­ous place, but it also of­fers con­so­la­tion, op­por­tu­nity for for­give­ness, re­pen­tance and hope. Sadly, at­ten­dance is drop­ping at an alarm­ing rate, apart from in the newer evan­gel­i­cal and house churches, where num­bers are ris­ing. News that an­other is clos­ing, Fortwilliam and Macrory in north Belfast, un­der­lines the down­ward trend.

There are many com­plex rea­sons. Many young peo­ple find the wor­ship bor­ing, while older peo­ple com­plain ser­vices have been dumbed-down for a “happy-clappy” gen­er­a­tion. There is also the re­al­ity that churches are com­pet­ing for time in a busy sec­u­lar world, and peo­ple find their mes­sage ir­rel­e­vant in a so­ci­ety that wor­ships other gods, like ma­te­ri­al­ism.

Yet there is a sig­nif­i­cant and ob­vi­ous para­dox, in that peo­ple turn to the church in times of cri­sis, or land­mark fam­ily oc­ca­sions such as wed­dings, bap­tisms and fu­ner­als. On these oc­ca­sions many clergy and church mem­bers demon­strate the warmth of car­ing Chris­tian­ity, which in turn at­tracts new mem­bers. The churches also play a sig­nif­i­cant so­cial role in car­ing for a wide range of peo­ple, in­clud­ing chil­dren, young moth­ers and the el­derly. They reach out to those in need by help­ing to stock food banks, and in other ways.

De­spite such good work, with­out which the Govern­ment could not cope alone in its so­cial out­reach, the churches are still find­ing it dif­fi­cult to fill the pews. Clearly, much needs to be done to at­tract new mem­bers. The an­swer does not lie in gim­micks which bring peo­ple in for a short time, but rather in the quiet, self­less work of church mem­bers, which im­presses out­siders and makes them aware what the church can of­fer at its best.

How­ever, some of this good work is off­set by some of the judg­men­tal­ism and di­vi­sions which dis­fig­ure the churches, and mem­bers need to learn to agree to dis­agree more gra­ciously.

Churches have a vi­tal role, and the loss of mem­bers is a loss to our wider so­ci­ety. The com­fort­ing re­al­ity is, how­ever, that Chris­tian­ity has sur­vived more than 2,000 years of tur­bu­lent his­tory and its ul­ti­mate demise is greatly ex­ag­ger­ated.

The words of G.K. Ch­ester­ton are both crit­i­cal and in­spir­ing. In his work What’s Wrong With The World, he stated: “The Chris­tian ideal has not been tried and found want­ing; it has been found dif­fi­cult, and left un­tried.”

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