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This is part three in a series of personal reflections on the State of the Church in 2024


Beyond the demographic trends, what else shapes the context in which we are ministering in 2024?  On the large scale, it is this age of polycrisis we are now so clearly living through.  Or the “Terrible Twenties” as some people are calling it. (See the latest report on our future risks from the World Economic Forum)

The pandemic and all its effects was the most dramatic crisis of this decade, and we still aren’t sure of all the lasting ramifications of it.  A million Americans are dead, and that grief alone is weighing on the national psyche.

There are our cultural reckonings with racial injustice and the #MeToo movement.  The wars and potential for expansion of those wars.  The epidemic of gun violence.  The epidemic of mental illness.  The opioid epidemic.  The rise of deaths of despair.  Political violence.  The rise of authoritarians.  The loss of reproductive rights.  The attacks on the LGBT community.

And looming over everything–global climate change and the many ways that impact is being felt now almost everyday.

Some religious thinkers are predicting that worse is yet to come, and that humanity might enter some sort of dark age. I’m hopeful that’s not the case, but I’m paying attention to those voicing the warnings.

All of this poses so many challenges.  For one, responding to all of these overlapping crises well requires a level of time, commitment, and assets that, frankly, American churches generally do not possess.  Much less that we not only need to respond as a matter of pastoral care for our members dealing with these things, but so many of these trends also have direct effects on our institutions, ministries, and buildings.  For instance, natural disasters are increasingly burning down, flooding, and wrecking our places of worship.  Our UCC church on St. Pete Beach must spend $100,000 a year now on hurricane insurance.

But not least among the challenges these crises pose is avoiding cynicism, despair, or exhaustion.

These crises also present opportunities for the church, because we have values, qualities, and skills that can help humanity in this moment.  Our rich traditions, our spiritual practices, our commitments to care and community, our service to others, our work for justice and peace, even the beauty of our artistry, these are among Christianity’s great strengths.  Some argue that church will be even more important than it has been.  

The English theologian Timothy Gorringe, for instance, believes that church will be vital for preserving the best aspects of humanity through this time of challenge.  Some refer to the “Benedictine option,” focusing on small communities of faith, like St. Benedict did at the beginning of the European Dark Ages.

What I take from an examination of these crises is that the church should embrace what it does well and its importance for humanity and work intentionally to cultivate caring, supportive, vibrant communities of witness.

Note: Last week I attended Conversations, the annual gathering of UCC Senior Ministers, and during our breakout sessions one discussion was “Navigating the Polycrisis,” which I obviously joined, glad that other colleagues are engaging with these same issues.


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