Servants No-longer but Friends Part 1

In early February of this year I was invited to preach at St Mark’s Cathedral, Minneapolis. My visit also coincided with a seminar day being given my Diana Butler-Bass a well known writer on contemporary  matters affecting the present day Church and the future of Christianity.

Ms Butler-Basse referred to the Gallup Poles on religious observance. The of the decade from 1999-2009 reveal over this 10 year period from 1999-2009 a marked shift in the way Christians identify themselves in terms of their self description as religious or spiritual.

In 1999 60% of those polled identified themselves as religious but not spiritual.  Whereas only  around 20% of people  identified as spiritual but not religious. A smaller number  under 10% identified as religious and spiritual.

By 2009 only around 10% identified as religious but not spiritual. Around the same proportion as in 1999 identified as spiritual but not religious. The biggest change was the those identifying as spiritual and religious which rose from 10% to 50%.

What is implied by this shift? In John15 Jesus says: I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

Prevalent among main-line Christians even as late as 1999  was the self image of being good servants of the Church.  They identified as members of the institution and served it generously through talents, time, and money. Yet, ask them if they felt a personal relationship with God, were they spiritual, they generally answered no. Spirituality was something best left to the clergy.

Looking around the community I serve at Trinity Cathedral I can clearly see the nature of this shift. While older members continue to serve the institution of the Church with dedication to tasks that need to be done, newer members are cautious about becoming what one X’er referred to as the $ sign in the pew.  At Trinity we are currently experiencing a blossoming of growth. On this coming Sunday, the Sunday after the Ascension no less, the Bishop will confirm, or receive, or reaffirm some 62 people into communion with the catholic faith. A good number of these are young people. Yet, well over half are adults, some 40 or so having recently passed through our Episcopal 101 preparation.

Many of these relative newcomers are not like our traditional Episcopal Church people profile. They tend to be younger than the average age of Episcopalians. They are not our traditional good servant material. They are not religious and are wary of becoming religious. They are predominantly spiritual seekers. Some are new to Christianity. Some escaping other traditions that no longer serve them well. All are seeking an encounter with Historic Christianity. A Christianity characterized by a depth of liturgical expression, a faithfulness to the historic diversity of Catholic Christianity exemplified in the Anglican Tradition, and a generous Christianity seeking to bring the deep wells of Christian spirituality into informed dialogue with the confusions and uncertainties of life in 21st century America.

Other more convicted Christians call the Episcopal Church ‘that easy religion’. A more acurate description is that we are a Church that refuses to offer easy answers to complex questions. And so those who are seeking, yet, not wanting to be mollified with easy answers that either fail to justice to the integrity of their search or actually do violence to that search, continue to come.

Back to John15 and Jesus’ reference to servants no-longer but friends. More in my next post.

About relationalrealities

Episcopal Priest currently Rector of St Martin's Providence, RI
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