Lessons form a Pandemic on the Future of Church

Lessons form a Pandemic on the Future of Church


Greetings!

Happy August!

This past week I read an article that Shalonda sent me about the digital future of the church. The article entitled:
“12 THINGS COVID HAS TAUGHT THE ANALOG CHURCH ABOUT DIGITAL CHURCH” which made the point that church as we know it has been forever forced into modernity by the pandemic. I’d be interested to get your feedback on it. The crisis has also forced many powerful questions. Here’s a quote from pastor James Emery White
 in the piece,
 
 “I think the pandemic may have just saved the church in many ways. It got us out of a Sunday/weekend-centric approach. It forced us online and into social media, it also made us open to change, being creative when we were not creative before, and open to innovation. It also got us back down to raw mission–what is our mission? You add all of that up, and it is dangerously close to awakening."
 
What does the church look like when it is separated from buildings?

What’s the same and what’s different?
 
What’s that same is that church, at its best, has been about community. The period of time when the Christian church grew the fastest is when it met in people’s homes in small groups where everyone knew that the others in the group were looking out for them.
 
As the church became larger it became more institutionalized, more distant, more political and the focus shifted from transforming lives to upholding buildings and salaries. A strong case is made that the Roman Catholic Church moved to the model of the celibate priest from the married with kids model to avoid losing property through inheritance. Today the Catholic Church owns 177 million acres of land and is second only to government.
 
During the Reformation, small groups began gathering secretly to study the ideas of Luther, Calvin, and Wesley in informal networks. They too grew into vast, often top-down political denominations focused on property and buildings.
 
While most Christian denominations were even named for their the political structure, for example, Episcopal, Church of England, Congregationalists and Presbyterians all reflect types of governance.
 
Swedenborgians also got their start in coffee houses and people’s homes, called societies.

Swedenborg had a very different model. He suggested that the Christian Church even after the reformation was still in need of a dramatic reform that would take place in the world. The old church, he taught, had been corrupted and lost the message of Jesus' message of love and truth.
 
Though he had followers even during his lifetime, he advised against creating a church in his name saying the changes he prophesied would take place in the world. He predicted that the Christian Church as we know it will die to make way for a New Church. This new church would be focused on personal transformation leading toward greater love.
 
Early Swedenborgians in England found these teachings so incredible that they didn’t know what to do. Do they stay within their current church and preach the new insights knowing that the church will evolve or do they go off and form their own church. There wasn’t a consensus. Some ministers, particularly in England, Germany, and US, were fired from their jobs and decided to launch their own denomination. Others have worked within existing denominations for generations reading Swedenborg, but not visible to the world.
 
The decision for those who read Swedenborg to move from reading groups to churches was a momentous one. It turned out that many early Swedenborgians in the US had money, clout, and great architects. The Boston Church was built right next to the State House on Beacon Hill. The Philadelphia Church on the most prestigious location off of Rittenhouse Square. The Washington DC church right next to the US Capitol where the Senate offices are located today. Later, the National Church was built on 16th Street by two of the most prominent architects in America. Two other churches in California are considered to be two of the most beautiful in the US--San Francisco Church and Wayfarers Chapel.
 
Typical of many new denominations, it didn’t take long for Swedenborgians (a name adopted in the 20th century) who called themselves, The New Church or The Church of the New Jerusalem, split into two parts. The General Church spun out from the New Church Academy located in Bucks County replacing the congregational governing style with an episcopal governing style run by bishops. (My great grandfather was a founder of the Academy and I grew up just fifteen minutes away for that location.) The General Church built Bryn Athyn Cathedral which is considered one of the most incredible and beautiful churches in America.

Built into the founding of Swedenborgianism in America is a paradox.

Swedenborg predicts that old Christian Church as he knew it, would slowly die and be replaced by a new spiritual epoch, which he called the new age. The phrase “new age” in our world today was taken from  
a book entitled "The New Age And Its Messenger" by Warren Felt Evans. The messenger he's talking about is Swedenborg.

Swedenborg also said something even more profound that was highlighted in Rev. Fekete’s convention course this summer. (Take a few minutes and watch his presentation.) Those who will create the new church won’t have been too attached to the old church.
 
Did Swedenborgians make a big mistake when the imitated old church?

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression in business that when a company shrinks in size they fire the newest hires. The phrase is “The last one in, first one out.” Is the Swedenborgian Church the last one into the old church, and, therefore, the first one out as it falls apart?
 
The pandemic and the use of new technology should challenge all of us to reimagine and live into the new church.
 
What might that look like?
 
Might there be just a few preacher ministers who preach online each Sunday to all of our societies? Might our societies gather in people’s homes. Might there be chaplain ministers around the country who meet in person and online meeting the counseling needs of members? Might the focus shift from building infrastructure to online outreach? Might there be regional mini-conventions in person that are safely in outdoor settings? Might our success by measured in our impact on justice in the world?
 
We have to open our hearts and imagination.
 
The Swedenborg Foundations’ program “Off the Left Eye” on YouTube reaches hundreds of thousands of viewers who would likely never walk into a sanctuary or attend a worship service. Might this model show us the way? Our own little church saw our most dramatic growth during the pandemic doing online services. What does that teach us?
 
I believe that we must stop doing things the way we do them because that’s what we have done. We must recognize that the church is within each of us. We need the community to grow and support our spiritual life. We should ask what do we really need for that transformation to take place? What are we doing just because it was what we’ve always done?
 
The pandemic gave us space to think.
 
This past year, I had the chance to work with our New York New Church to think about their future. An incredible building in the Murray Hill section of New York was being maintained by five active members, each doing incredible and stressful work to keep the society open and the building going. Imagining themselves as Trustees with Swedenborgian volunteer board members from around the country to create a new foundation using funds from the building sale serving good causes. They asked themselves one simple question, “What can we do to be most useful to the Lord?” The answer took them in painful and powerful directions. I believe their leadership is something we can all look to for ourselves.
Here are four questions to guide us:
 
What can we do that is most useful to the Lord?
How do we best support one another in our desire to grow spiritually in love?
How do we best serve the world?
How do we best help bring more justice in this world?
 
The answers are not likely what we imagined. Only when we follow the Lord’s lead, we are truly creating the new church.


Your Pastor
Rev. Richard L. Tafel

richtafel@gmail.com

Readings this Week



Psalm 124
Nisi quia Dominus
1 If the Lord had not been on our side, *
let Israel now say;
2 If the Lord had not been on our side, *
when enemies rose up against us;
3 Then would they have swallowed us up alive *
in their fierce anger toward us;
4 Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *
and the torrent gone over us;
5 Then would the raging waters *
have gone right over us.
6 Blessed be the Lord! *
he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the Name of the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.



Gospel

Jesus Questioned
18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.
21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”



Swedenborg Insight
Love, Swedenborg says, is the basic element of reality. It is the source of all life, the essence of God. Our souls are individual finite forms of love, our bodies serving as mirrors of that inner essence. As we live, we choose what kind of love we will be. We may choose to regard ourselves as the only reality–our own needs, desires, and feelings as all important. Or we may choose to focus on others. In the former instance, we shrink in spirit, allowing a part of our potential as loving beings to atrophy. In the latter instance, we grow spiritually, heightening our awareness of the nature of love and thus also of the nature of ourselves and God.




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Dancing Priest Does Hamilton | CHURCH PARODY | "You'll Be Back"


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New Gate
Thanks to Elfa Halloway who donated this new gate to protect the HVAC units.
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Views of the church this week in August



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