BELIEF: The world is our pulpit: preaching in the church without walls
We all know WITHOUT A DOUBT that the world of the Church has changed radically at least in the last two or three years as COVID hit us all.
As churchgoers and church leaders learned about new ways to deal with our current plague, such as B. COVID vaccinations, many traditionalists felt a deep sense of relief that they could finally return to their old ways (sermons in shrines, services behind walls, etc.). riff about Shakespeare).
Others, including myself, noted that the changes resulting from COVID could lead to new opportunities, that print media and new media alike are ways, maybe even the way, to revitalize a clearly dying church, at least in the USA
Across the country, church attendance is declining even as our parishioners age. Clergy of all orders have performed numerous weddings and funerals, and more and more of our population is retiring.
Worse still, the clergy shortage – a particularly bad omen for the survival of the church – is increasing every year.
If we choose to remain in a church without walls, where we come to people either in forms like Zoom or not at all, what will the sermon look like in such a situation? Even Zoom – which only simulates the real world, even for one-off actions like sermons – requires changes in the way we talk about the gospel. Short is really cute. Long theological monologues by trained seminary graduates may not fit the mindset of most people today.
As a deacon who cares for the marginalized and is also a professionally trained public speaker, I myself do not lament this change. In today’s world, short is sweeter, especially when the move to shorter forms causes more people to come and then get out and take action, which is the primary goal of the deacon’s preaching.
But what other possibilities are there for the cairotic moment when, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “the conditions are right for the performance of a decisive action”?
My own answer is written text in public media such as newspapers. Yes, it may seem old-fashioned to some, but I know that my experience as a religion columnist at PDN gives me a much larger audience than many preachers in traditional churches can.
What you are reading right now is being circulated by newspapers across the Olympic Peninsula and is being read by people in rural communities, small towns and small towns where the mainstream church just isn’t reaching out, or where the technological divide is particularly damaging to those who live there , where they have lived for decades and where their families have lived for generations, but also where mobility and internet access may be very limited.
Even in Port Angeles, which has a very good transportation system, there is no public transportation on Sundays, except for a bus that runs twice a day from Port Angeles to a ferry dock that goes to Seattle.
But the big shift is from a sermon delivered within the cozy walls of a church, where the preacher can expect a friendly or inquisitive audience (unless the political views of the parishioners differ wildly) to an audience of public discourse enormously.
As a writer for the outside world, in an increasingly unchurched world, I cannot necessarily assume that I know much at all about church history, theology, or liturgy—all potential subjects in ordinary sermons.
I can’t even assume that I know a common text. I shouldn’t be able to either.
That security and comfort, that ability to relate to recently heard texts as in a church, does not exist in the world of the print columnist. For one thing, my columns have to be self-contained. Large blocks of quotes are deadly to the reader of a newspaper. They just don’t work.
Additionally, while I’m grateful to my editors at PDN and the freedom they give me to choose my own topics, I always have to keep the audience in mind.
In the case of the media, my audience consists of readers, most of whom I don’t really know. Public space writers must perform a difficult balancing act to ensure they get read.
Church ministers have captive audiences that they often know well. Writers outside the walls of the church don’t do this, at least not in a shorter form.
I love advice columnists (I always know I could give better advice than they do, dammit!), but there’s one columnist I don’t read. Their lyrics get, well, lengthy and in the internet’s famous/infamous lexicon, TLDR; (Too long, didn’t read). Brevity is vital in both the world of public discourse and in the church without walls.
But inside or outside the church, the job of the religious communicator, whether preaching from the pulpit or appearing in the newspaper, is the same: to let you know how much God always loves you.
As my church puts it, “God loves you no matter what!”
Issues of Faith is a rotating column of religious leaders in the North Olympic Peninsula. Rev Dr Keith Dorwick is a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.