April 16th, 2012
The “Value Voters” have announced their Summit again, and hate groups, exclusionists, and theocrats are well represented. And again good and decent people are too reluctant to challenge it in the way that it should be challenged.
* * *
In December, a friend asked what I was doing Christmas Day. I told him that there was a church near where I live, St. James in the City Episcopal Church, that has a food pantry and I was going to see if they had a Christmas Dinner I could volunteer for. He laughed at me. It seems that if you want to volunteer at St. James, you have to sign up months in advance.
St. James caught my attention again this week when a client listed them as their church. This individual is very generous with time and money and seems committed to helping the less fortunate, so this confirmed to me that this congregation had a emphasis on contributing to the world.
St. James in the City is located on Wilshire in a section dotted with beautiful early 20′s Century Churches. Glorious architecture with heritage built for an affluent community that migrated outward leaving their mansions to be torn down and replaced with apartment buildings. The handful of older ladies that venture back each Sunday to the First Congregational nearby surely don’t support the upkeep – that is from movie production rental. And the handsome Italian Romanesque beauty that is Wilshire Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) went up for sale a few months ago.
Church attendance is down in general. And with the mega-church phenomenon sucking away many who might otherwise attend their local church, the old standbys are hurting. And mainline denominations are hurting the most.
But not St. James. It is packed on Sundays.
And one congregate wrote a few years back about her experience for a British audience, explaining the appeal.
While churches in England have, for the most part, modernised their services in an attempt to attract bigger crowds — some of them becoming painfully evangelical and happy clappy — the Episcopal church in the US still uses the older, traditional liturgies, the ones that I remember nostalgically. It was these superficial trappings that appealed to us originally. My husband, who writes music for a living, is a sucker for a choir — but it is the values that we found there that has really kept us coming back.
At our church, it is not unusual to see children with two mums or two dads, sitting next to Koreans, African-Americans, Hispanics, as well as many white middle-class families. There are monied people from Beverly Hills, rubbing shoulders with artists from downtown. Gay people next to straight. It’s jolly, social and somehow has a relevance to everyone’s life. It reflects an acceptance of all, the kind of value I’d like my children to have. And it is a community. Spirituality, I believe, comes from acknowledging that we are part of something greater than just ourselves.
I believe that she has identified something. And I think that it is a notion that mainline Christianity should note.
For too long those who have obstinately held to theological positions that do not reflect either modern understanding about sexuality or the spirit of the message found in Christ’s recorded teachings have owned the word “values”. And mainline churches have been in the public’s perception limited to “no, we aren’t all like that”.
I think it is long passed the time when Mainline Christianity stand and say, “We have strong values including inclusion, relevance, flexibility, and especially love for our fellow man. Our values predate whatever those others are selling and were, in fact, the values of our founder”.
Mainline Christianity deserves a better position that “the Christians who don’t hate you”. What they have to offer is a much needed commodity. It’s not just what they don’t give – it’s what they do give: values, the kind you wants your kids to have.