Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Faith Works 1-03-15

Faith Works 1-03-15
Jeff Gill

You might just ask "why?"

This column is written at the beginning of a new year, with my intention being to chart a course for what will be a sort of series in the coming weeks.

It's not meant to be a menu, or a timetable, let alone a table of contents, but it is a sort of trailer, giving you all some hints as to the overall theme of what I think folks would like to read here . . . but leaving myself enough flexibility in later edits and final cuts to make changes based, in part, on your feedback.

My main focus in going to be "Why?' As in, why do Christians have, let alone care so much, about having a book they call their Bible? Why do we pray? Why do most groups within Christendom have clergy? Why do we worship together in groups? Why does marriage occupy such an important place in faith community identity, and why do we define it the way we do?

Before I go any further, let me cop to my usual outs: this is all quite biased towards Christianity in general, and my own perspective will always tend to the Protestant standpoint even when I'm probably not meaning to. I like to think I can speak coherently about Catholicism, and Lutheranism, Wesleyan and Anglican/Episcopalianism streams, the more Reformed Protestant groups (Presbyterians and some Baptists), and the strongly Congregational angle is one I come at as a native, but I try to keep up with developments among the Pentecostal, Orthodox (Eastern and otherwise), and Anabaptist traditions.

But east central Ohio has a history that is deeply rooted in Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist forms of Christian faith and practice; Southern Baptists in recent years have come to outnumber Northern, which are nowadays American Baptist Churches, and the Catholic Christian community has deep continuities in our area, going back to French trappers and traders and Jesuit missionaries, even as the Moravian Church, all too little known today even by their Protestant heirs, shaped much of our map in this half of the state.

So multiple groups are part of the story, even as the rise – or some would say "return" – of Enlightenment values has led to an increase in secularism and agnostic if not always atheistic values and practices in our culture today.

What is a constant for me, in talking about faith and works of faith in Licking County to a general audience, is that the vast majority of readers and audiences are what is often called "un-churched" and can also be tagged as "de-churched" people. On any given Sunday, counting broadly and even including those who drive out of county to attend services, barely 20% are in a worship experience. If you allow for the end of "blue laws" closing most businesses on Sundays, and modern work schedules in general, and say there's a group who would like to worship more often who just can't make it due to shifts or hours or even kids' sports, you could with an effort get the number of regular churchgoers up to 70%. (It would be a stretch, but I'll be generous.)

That means 70% of Licking Countians don't go to a worship gathering twice or more a year. Yes, Gallup still gets some 40% SAYING they go four or more times a year (which still leaves 60% un/de-churched), but that's to a nice person on a phone. The hineys-in-seats numbers don't support any such figure. However you do the math, well over half of you'ns don't attend a church.

Which is why I'd like to begin my second decade of "Faith Works" taking my shot at explaining, to a diverse audience, answers to "Why?" – as in why Christians, broadly speaking, value and affirm and DO the things they do. Perhaps you have some specific "Why?" questions you'd like to see answered. Let me know what they are!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you'd like to know "Why?" about at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.