From the Deacon’s Bench - June 2022
I recently read a blog from a website I frequent. It caught my eye as it was written by a priest and the title was “Let’s Put the Church Out of Business.” It contained quotes from a number of writers including the American theologian, Frederick Buechner who wrote, “I wonder if the best thing that could happen to many a church might not be to have its building burn down and to lose all its money. Then all that the people would have left would be God and each other.” There was also a quote from A.W. Tozer, an American pastor and well-known author in the earlier 20th century who spent his last years as pastor at Avenue Road Church in Toronto. He wrote, “The average church has so established itself organizationally and financially that God is simply not necessary to it. So entrenched is its authority and so stable are the religious habits of its members that God could withdraw Himself completely from it and it could run for years on its own momentum.”
I think we need to look at thoughts like that regularly and examine who we really are and what we are doing as a church and as a parish. Are we living the Gospel as outlined in Matthew 25? Are we living as set out in the Letter of James? Is that at the forefront of what we are doing at St. Anne’s or are we caught up more in the trappings of a building and how we use it? Is what we do on Sundays or during the week focused more on us as opposed to God and our neighbour? What about my focus? Is it on what I am doing for St. Anne’s and on my role in the parish, or is St. Anne’s the place where I go to connect with God through the others who are there?
I considered what I have experienced attending church in Cuba. Besides Holguin, I have had the opportunity to worship at other parishes in Cuba including a number of rural parishes and the Cathedral in Havana. Keeping in mind that it is a different culture, church as I have experienced it there is different. Church is no longer actively discouraged by the state, but it doesn’t enjoy the benefits provided our churches. Rural churches may be basic structures and in places like Holguin, church has to be held in a pre-existing building, which in their case is what was a home. Life is Spartan. The things in daily life about which we complain are not comparable to what they experience every day. When talking to my Cuban friends, there is little about which I can complain because our problems are very minor inconveniences compared to what they face. I also keep in mind that the average Cuban is relatively much better off than the average citizen in other Caribbean countries.
Because their lives have to focus on basics, I find that the way they live their faith is different. They are more open with each other about their everyday problems, and more supportive of each other. The church structure is more Spartan because they use some of their resources to meet the needs of each other. Without all the “stuff” that we have, they seem freer to focus on their relationship with God and each other. Their world is more like that talked about by Tozer and Buechner.
We can’t change our part of the world to a simpler world. But how do we find a way to repel the trappings of our world and the whirlpool draw of individualism and consumerism? How do we deal with “I want” as opposed to God and neighbour? How can I lead life so it is focussed on God and others? Lots of questions. Where are the answers? So as in the game of Jeopardy, Alex, can I have the meaning of life for $200?