To Give Up. Or Not to Give Up. That is the Church Question.

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The Pew Research Center recently released their startling, dramatic, (and highly predictable) findings this week — Christianity is on the decline in America and non-affiliated people are on the rise.

They’re just now noticing this? Spend a day with me in Los Angeles.

Beyond all stats and trends, let me tell you what I see . . . and this is a personal point of view, anecdotal, and does not apply to any other situation . . . I see First Congregational Church of Los Angeles . . .

A church that a few years ago was down and defeated, broken and mired in the past, with little focus on the future and barely able to take a breath in the present . . . I see a church that is in the midst of a spiritual renaissance, a community that is positive and optimistic, people who learn together and laugh together and enjoy one another, people who are hearing again the good news that God is still doing something in this world . . . I see a church that is progressive, not necessarily liberal but progressive, progressive in the sense that questions are celebrated, and insights, wherever they might come from, are appreciated . . . I see a place where cultural diversity is not merely tolerated but lifted up and enjoyed . . . a place where human dignity is honored, and women and men and children, gay and straight, rich and poor, black and white and brown, are welcomed and honored as children of God . . . I see a place that knows that the essence of faith is love for God and love for neighbor, and anything else, everything else, while interesting, is always in second place . . . I see a community of Christians that welcomes the believer and unbeliever, the doubter and agnostic . . . and I see a church that is making a difference in the lives of young adults and middle adults and older adults — Why? — because something real happens every Sunday, not every now and then, but every Sunday something real is transacted in the dynamic stew that is liturgy and music and prayer. And so I say . . . let the Pew Research Center come to some real pews . . . pews at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, and many other places around the country, a place where last week we held a baptism and the week before we welcomed a Rabbi to our pulpit and the week before we honored Holocaust victims and the week before that we explored extraordinary photography by Andy Romanoff . . . and so it goes.

To my colleagues and friends who grew up, attended, and still attend and preach in Mainline Christian congregations . . . don’t give up.

God is like yeast, quietly, wonderfully, deliciously working. God is like a seed — How does it grow? — we don’t really know. But it does. And God is like a star that has been shining for thousands  and thousands of years, but the light is just now making its way to our planet. I might be wrong. I know. I might be very wrong. But I happen to think that faith in America is poised for a renaissance. That something is on the verge of kissing the earth. Because in the end, we can work and play and have kids and grandkids and contribute to IRAs and go out to dinner and buy tickets to Disney World and wash the car and fix hamburgers on the grill and have flat tires while driving to work on a Monday morning. . . but in the end . . . we want life to mean something . . . and life meaning something goes to the heart of the religious quest. As long as human beings ask why, faith will always have a reason to rise up and respond.

So Take a Breath, dear friends, one and all. Screw up the courage. Take heart. Put on your big boy and big girl pants. We are living in changing times, but exciting times, and every change is an opportunity for insight and every defeat an opportunity for resurrection.

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