We take it that when the state of things shall have arrived which we have been above attempting to describe, man will have become to the machine what the horse and the dog are to man.
A firm opinion I hold regarding the Church as an institution is that it must be present, be consistent, and be ready to meet people wherever they are. This means open, unlocked doors. This means frequent services, but, just as or more importantly, it means dependable schedules. This means talking to strangers on the train.
Perhaps what most attracted me to the Anglican tradition was the ready-built framework of tradition provided by Thos. Cranmer that not only allows but encourages worship throughout the day, that no only allows but encourages lay participation. Not all parishes have a priest, for those who need one, or a minister of the Word. Not everyone can attend a morning service at 06:00, or a mid-day service at noon, or an evening service at 18:00, or a night service at 21:00. Some, unfortunately, can’t attend Sunday. Some can, but not Sunday morning.
I grew up in what is now a large suburban not-quite-megachurch congregation, but we moved and I spent my teen years in a tiny one. A tiny one of the four churches that Dad served. His time was divided; but whether they had a sermon or not, they came together to worship each week.
So I’m puzzled when churches pull back, reduce their hours, close their doors.
How can anyone find you then?
It’s not unlike scheduling any other meeting. The more people you have, the harder it is to pick a time convenient to everyone, and the more the need to just pick a time and shrug one’s shoulders about those who will miss out. This may work for presentations from Human Resources, or an academic conference, or the World Series, but the Good News is unlimited. God does not fit in that one convenient hour once a week.
God is patient. He waits.
For three months now I’ve been leading Morning Prayer at 07:30. At most there are three of us, usually just two, sometimes one. We should probably announce it more loudly. Anyone could lead a noon service. Anyone could lead an evening one. When I move to that town, I will.
Beware this trap.
I’ve been in congregations of varying size, the largest of which was Catholic. The second largest of which was located at the intersection of I-71, I-275, and Fields-Ertel Rd., and sold its property to finance growth. The smallest congregation I was adjacent to was two people. Those two old folks kept the building in tip-top shape until they passed and it was sold–to, of all people, Episcopalians.
The first reason this does not work is that Episcopalians were thin on the ground before they started declining. The decline was coincident with certain changes in practice if not in doctrine, but was presaged by events in other denominations. Some folks might like to blame it entirely on Bishops Pike and Spong; they were accelerants, not a cause.
tl;dr: It’s the Boomers.
The participation rate in church attendance during the middle of the 20th Century was absurdly abnormal. This is due to a couple of reasons, the major ones being not having to work on Sunday, lots of kids, and disorganized sports. We’re dealing with the decline from all of these.
It is no coincidence that the decline in church attendance aligns with the advent of the Rust Belt and the Me Generation’s adolescence, but not for the reasons that all of the fancy people think. It’s only because of 1) economics and 2) adolescence.
In the meantime, the church has been chasing phantoms trying to entice the past three generations of rebellious adolescents to come inside by being cool, and in the process has lost itself. It did not help that earlier in the century most denominations sided with the Modernists.
They became subject to the whims and chances of fate: poll-driven, not unlike the waffler Bill Clinton. So that now they resemble nothing more than another press office for whatever progressive politics cares about this week.
How could that possibly attract anyone, much less cynical youth? They may as well join the Democratic Party or a world-saving, money-grabbing NGO and get their religion from the source.
So, what to do? The parish is critical. Centralization of the physical presence of the church will not work. It will only hasten the decline, for two reasons: 1) it increases the cost of attendance for those who are already attending, and 2) doesn’t address the core problem. It addresses neither doctrine, nor general economic failure, nor the built environment, nor why people move from one place to another. It assumes that we will continue to subsidize large houses and large cars and cheap gas. It assumes congregants have both cash and time.
The middle of the 20th Century was a once-in-a-lifetime event, equivalent to the end of the Black Death in Europe. It has been been obvious for decades that it can’t go on, but we have not changed our behavior one whit.
So what might work? The Rev. Crosby notes an area of expenditure which sucks funds from the work of the church: administrative staff. I’ve not looked at the numbers for the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States, but the balance in the Church of England is out of whack. Redressing this may entail not being active in random social programs.
One thing which may help local parishes is paying for the livings of clerical staff from the central fund. On the one hand, this would allow distributing staff where needed. On the other, we’re currently in the red due to the assessed contribution to the general fund. See above. Along those lines, one reason clergy need $$ is because of debt. Which brings us to the seminaries. I would prefer they be orthodox, but whether they are or not, postulants should not be saddled with debt and years of waiting before engaging in pastoral work.
Orthodoxy, however, is critical. The Gospel is the reason the Church exists. Without preaching the Gospel, what is the point? Thus, catechesis is as important as evangelism. Teach the people already there. Then spread the news.
All of that is well and good, but we need children. They come back after adolescence, if the church is still there and treated them well. Not all return, but some, perhaps most. And to get children we need to marry men and women. Pragmatic utilitarianism, if the outright injunctions and prescriptions in the Bible won’t, requires that the Church insist that marriages be between men and women and result in children.
Our congregants left. Some have died. Where did they go? Do they play travel soccer on Sunday? Are they working at Walmart? Did they get the hell out of Dodge? If the latter, does that destination have a congregation for them? If it’s a schedule conflict, how can help that? We can, by being ready and waiting, generous and available. But, we do need to realize that barring extraordinarily well-distributed economic prosperity, the church’s natural membership rate is closer to 20% than it is to 60%.
There’s a certain amount of money necessary to keep things afloat. Roofs need repair every now and again. And the congregants do like heat in the winter. And ministers of the Word should be free of worldly care and concern. But income inequality is outside of our direct control: unless of course, one is a believer, a banker, and in a position to effect change. The widow’s mite must sustain us.
The polities of some denominations do not scale as well as others. Some are limited by their view of the sacraments and who can deliver them. Some by what education is required of the minister. Some by who exactly can be ordained. Some are not. It is for these reasons that there are more Baptists and Methodists than there are Presbyterians and Anglicans. And so depending on the denomination there are different logistical considerations which must be taken into account, unless one wants to change one’s polity.
Using statistics to make decisions, rather than simply inform them, can lead one astray. This is true whether one is a church or a Fortune 100 company. Arbitrary cut-offs cause lying.
But more critically, I suppose, they cause one to abandon one’s mission.
I will use Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) <150 as the cutoff in the example below, since there are few congregations between 100 and 150 in average Sunday attendance and I don’t have the full 2022 dataset. See the histogram for 2021 below.
If we were to retire all churches with fewer than 50 attendees, we would close more than half, including all in Alaska, though not the two in Micronesia. If those with fewer than 150, then 93% of all congregations, 71% of all attendees, or 366,686 of the 372,952 who come to church.
Thus very effectively pivoting to video.
Church membership, like almost everything, is a Pareto distribution.
I would like to thank Rev. @benjamindcrosby for starting this discussion. If it were not for thoughtful, concerned clergy like him, this church would stagger blindly over the cliff, wondering all the time why pews were empty while event rental revenue wasn’t making up the slack.
And I would like to thank @iamepiscopalian, because it has offered a refuge for those who have not fled God but who need shelter from the works of men. Though we differ on essential matters, Articles of Religion XXVI still pertains. More theologically, it is not the building but the people who are the church, and where two or three are gathered together, so shall Christ be.
I’ve been thinking about this verse from Sunday, and particularly about “while it was still dark,” as the preacher attempted to make a point about the depths of despair.
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.John 20:1 (ESV)
Or, as the hymn has it, “while the dew was still on the roses.”
On Maunday Thursday, the first day of Pesach, the moon was full. By Easter Sunday, the waning gibbous moon was still quite bright, so “while it was still dark” was not that dark. And even with a New Moon the sky was somewhat like this photograph of the Milky Way, taken in the Negev.
And the garden somewhat like this, depending on what is meant by σκοτίας ἔτι οὔσης. I like to think the author meant 04:00. The silent time. The night animals have gone to sleep and the birds have yet to sing.
Metaphorically, dark. Yet a world beautiful and good.
Go out early, just before dawn, smell the world in Spring and listen.
Something is about to happen.
Climbed the fire tower on Sounding Knob with some of my children this morning, and after overcoming the vertigo looked out over the oldest mountains in the world.
And one of the oldest volcanoes.
Good piece by Sohrab Ahmari in the New York Times today. (Shame he blocked me on Tweeter after I suggested he might be an idiot for all the shilling he did for Trump. He’s not a moron, usually, but did play one for the New York Post.)
Fake G.O.P. populism challenged “woke capital” — companies that it believed had become overly politically correct — but didn’t dare touch the power of corporate America to coerce workers and consumers, or the power of private equity and hedge funds to hollow out the real economy, which employs workers for useful products and services — or used to, anyway. The Republican Party remained as hostile as ever to collective bargaining as a new wave of labor militancy swept the private economy.
Republican economic policy remains overwhelmingly beholden to a donor class of plutocrats and high corporate managers. Seen from that perspective, it makes sense for the party to talk about adjuncts and baristas as though they were members of the ruling class. In doing so, these faux populists can remain indifferent to issues like wages and workplace power, health care and the depredations of speculative finance.
On Tuesday, it seems enough members of the “the multiracial working class” may have decided to repay that hostility and help deny Republicans their red wave: either by staying home or casting their ballots for the party that, despite its other failings, keeps entitlements inviolate, supports collective bargaining and has sought to ease the student-loan burden. Boo Hoo!
All of his observations may be equally applied to the Democratic Party. Both are controlled by an oligarchical plutocracy who struggle, for some definitions of struggle, with how they might pretend to be of the people and for the people without actually giving much attention to the people. Despite that, the Biden administration has somehow managed to begin reining in some of the excessive behavior of that class, in a slow, either half-hearted or deliberate depending on your perspective, fashion.
This does not so much make the Democrats a better party than the Republicans, as one which has at least read The Dictators Handbook and is throwing the dogs a bone.
One humid summer night, passing through Maryland on a long road trip, I stopped for gas and a pack of smokes. In those days gas stations weren’t often open at all hours; when they were, they were lonely and alone—and often still are, off the beaten path.
I once was able to escape entirely into books, and could leave the world behind until one was done, no matter the troubles troubling my heart. My brother, a mere 15 months younger than I, crumpled his Miata this morning, and lies unconscious with a not-entirely-fractured neck in a hospital in Virginia, while I am here in New York in front of a computer.
So close in age, we were fairly inseparable until those horrible years of the mid-teens where one cuts all ties. We wrestled. We fought. We played Little League baseball together. He was Tom Seaver. I was Johnny Bench. We were in Scouts together. We put away folding chairs after church events together. We snuck out of the service and ran around the building. We tried drinking coffee. We helped Mom in the food pantry together. We rode our bikes around town and gave little old ladies heart attacks with our daring street crossings together. We mowed lawns together, then rode those bikes and bought comic books, chili dogs, and cream soda together. He would grow up to be a police officer and I would be a fireman. Or maybe we would both be Millionaire Super-heroes. We made Big Plans for our Secret Lair under the mountain where he’d have a bedroom near the underground hanger and I’d have one near the boat dock on the hidden river. We read The Hardy Boys’ Handbook: Seven Stories of Survival, and plotted all of our adventures in Great Detail.
Everyone thought we were twins. Life as an adult without him was unimaginable.
Then I withdrew into myself in high school, went away to college, got married, and we drifted.
Three weeks ago I was in Virginia riding in that Miata with him, thinking about the Hardy Boys, off on an adventure.
On Marketplace last night, Kai Ryssdal stated the unspoken obvious: “Guns are a business. A big business multi-billion dollar business in this country.”
I’m reminded of an epigraph from Myth Adventures:
War may be Hell, but it sure is good for business.The Association of Merchants, Manufacturers, and Morticians
When will life become more profitable than death?
This here book I’m reading is older than I am, but just by a hair. It was checked out four times before I was born; the last just in time.
It remained popular through 1972, then interest slowed. Perhaps everyone had read it by then, or they were watching the continuing story on television. Interest picked up a bit in 1986, or someone took real long to read these 109 pages. But who can say, other than the librarian, if I’m the first to have read it since July 15, 1995?
It was 18:30 just a few minutes ago and the sun had no thought yet of setting. Now it’s black out, and my computer woke up to tell me it is going to sleep. “Where does the time go?” the lady asks. I’ve no clock here telling of those inexorable seconds ticking off each moment.
Ten years ago I would have said I’d lost the time to online media. Today, though, no. It’s been raining and I’ve been sitting here listening to the rain and, every now and again, thinking. Three hours seemed like forever so long ago. Today? Just a moment lost in thought, like tears in the rain.
Luna, the smallest and youngest of our cats, has in her short time here cornered two snakes behind a door in the basement. And somehow she climbs the concrete wall in the laundry room to look into a gap in the framing.
On the wire shelf above the clothes washing robot, wrapped over and under the wires, is a shed skin.
Today she found the third.
This is Luna. She is so threatening.
Number One Daughter graduates from SUNY New Paltz tomorrow. What next for her?
Number Two Daughter has returned home from for the Summer and is between plans. I do not wash my dishes frequently enough for her; a household of three barely fills the dishwashing robot while a household of four produces more than enough, so some wait on the counter for the robot’s human helpers to put away the previous load. She has taken it upon herself to make the sink to her liking. Perhaps also now she is home her fish tank of snails will move to her room: the electrical water pump is louder than my tinnitus, and drones away the quiet.
Dense fog, low clouds cover the hills; not much beyond the road is visible. The birds don’t mind; they keep up their morning chatter. They like this cool morning. At the house next door the laborers have raised a ladder. They like this cool morning too. The National Weather Service warns me that there is dense fog.
They also warn me that after noon today until tomorrow’s night an oppressively hot and humid heat will hang over the young students and their families sitting on the lawn in front of the Old Main Building. New Paltz’s gowns are a bright blue, but still not the sort of thing one wants to swelter in while a notable figure sends them off into the world to do Great Things.
I barely recall my own commencement 29 years ago. It was sunny. It was hot. It was long. My family was there, somewhere behind me, on folding chairs. We were exhorted, by multiple speakers. I shook a hand. I went off into the world to do Great Things.
One of those Great Things is graduating from SUNY New Paltz tomorrow.
Strong breeze tonight
Warm breeze tonight
Low breeze tonight
The clouds above, unmoved
The stars above, unmoved
The dipper above, unmoved
This breeze, low, around
This breeze, low, around
Toward the end of March 2020, searching the Internet for some solace, I found myself watching the Dean of Canterbury’s morning prayers. A week or so later, it had become a daily practice for the cats and me to join in these prayers both morning and evening. I told everyone I knew and loved. Some made this their practice as well.
By canon law, Dean Robert Willis must retire on his 75th birthday, which is this coming Tuesday. I will miss how he seamlessly tied the Psalm and the daily lesson together with anniversaries of the day and current events. And I will miss the comfort of his voice.
But I will continue the daily practice.
Thursday afternoon the frogs who cling to the trees nearby gave voice to their mating song. A few daring fellows first, by evening constant singing rose from the woods surrounding the soccer field amphitheater. Tonight the humid airs are theirs.
Humid out, but cooler than inside, so I’ve opened the windows to let in their song.
The virtual world cannot compare. It engages but one of our senses, and even that just barely. How sad, how deficient must those be who think such a pale imitation could be even marginally attractive? Even the makers of amusement park rides are not so foolish.
I spread the herbed chèvre on sourdough flatbread, then marvel at the flavors on my tongue. Can your masturbatory fantasy machine do this? Why should it, when there is grass, basil, oregano, and goats?
No one is mowing today. The dawn chorus sang its morning song for hours, until the hint of summer rose too high. Then the mourning dove announced it must be noon.
No one is mowing today. Not even the morning race of cars to work. Too soon perhaps to give in to air conditioning, or my neighbors have seen the price of oil and decided quietly for fortitude. What pilot disturbs the sky?
No one is mowing today. The carpenter bee busies himself in the soffit near the lilac, humming at his sunny work. The air not quite still, the breeze slowly, slowly pulling blankets up over the hill.
No one is mowing today.
A luxury of working from home is the occasional opportunity to sit outside well away from the darkened lair of the computing beast.
There is some small guilt in this little pleasure, as if I’ve stolen a secret moment from capitalism.
The population bump has reached the right-hand end of the curve: “The aging of baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, who were ages 57 to 75 in 2021, is partly driving the growth in the adult population.”
The Census also notes, “[t]he slow decline of the younger population is in part due to a general decrease in fertility, ongoing since 2007,” though the CDC data they link to shows the flattening, after the unusual spike of the Baby Boom, of a trend from the beginning of the century. This is not a general decrease in fertility since 2007 but a century-long decline obscured by the fact that the Baby Boom generation is a HUGE outlier. That demographic wave has to die out before we can easily separate anything from its effects. Am I completely missing something from this chart that leads me to see something completely different from the written analysis? Or are statisticians so divorced from the specifics that they can’t see the relatively obvious?
The fertility rate trend has been in decline for the entire period covered by this chart. The increase in births between 1913 and 1914 brought the rate back to the 1909 starting point, but it began sliding immediately, returning to form in 1921 after the sharp dip correlated with the Spanish Flu and American participation in World War One, then falling off a cliff as the Lost Generation partied through the Roaring Twenties before hitting the floor in 1933.
Why a Baby Boom? It wasn’t the end of WW2. As we can see in the graph, the upward curve begins in 1937, well before 1945. There are distinct drops from 1943-1945, during WWII, from 1948-1950, Korea, and 1963-1968, Vietnam, an uptick between 1968 and 1970, then a sharp drop until Watergate in 1973–just coincidentally 50 years from the nadir of the previous decline.
It seems more likely that it was multiple generations having children at the same time, even some of the Lost. And we can easily see in the chart below that everyone between 15 and 44 was making like rabbits. But is the notion that the Baby Boom was in response to horny boys home from the war and the general prosperity after World War Two incorrect or merely oversimplified? If the dataset were longer, we might be able to tell. The boom’s apex, in 1957, was still lower than the rate in 1916. Take away the boom, and the curve looks like the flattened end of a long slide. Perhaps the better question is why that long slide?
Why was the Lost Generation so lost?
My grandparents of the Greatest Generation didn’t go away to war: they married and had children; my parents were of the tail end of the Silent Generation. I’m of Generation X, my children of Generation Z. And while those labels are possibly useful marketing categories and perhaps even predictors of electoral behavior, they aren’t much use in helping us to understand.