Empty Pews?

By Bryan Sickbert

A Nollau class member recently shared a column from Sojourners entitled “’Nones’ and the Common Good.” The column, written by Eboo Patel, a Muslim American and founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, asks the question, “What will happen to U.S. civil society as the pews empty out?”

Patel cites the well-documented membership decline of traditional Christian religious denominations and the growth in the number of people who check off “none” when it comes to affiliation with the various brands of organized religion. Patel’s perspective does not bemoan the decline of the church or find fault with the “nones” who he asserts are generally persons of intellect, sensitivity, compassion and character. His concern is for American society at large as the religious communities that build and operate the preponderance of our hospitals and social service agencies are significantly weakened.

The column brought to mind the experience of our partner diakonic institutions in Germany. The pews of Europe emptied out long ago. However, the diaconal witness of the church continues as the bedrock of the society’s support of its vulnerable citizens. It has been decades, perhaps a millennium, since offering plates provided capital and operational funds. Public and philanthropic sources have supplanted the pews as the financial benefactors of the church’s service mission, its diakonia. But, it is still the church’s diakonia!

This is why in an important respect, I do not share Patel’s concern. Nevertheless, the fact that he has the concern is encouraging. Patel, a Muslim, understands and appreciates the commitment and capacity of Jewish and Christian religious communities to organize the work of health and human service at a significant scale. I believe that this is probably true of most “nones” as well. Increasingly, as in Europe, the church in this country will find a primary social identity through its diakonia.

Perhaps someone reading this column is a “none” working in a CHHSM ministry. If so, the next time you fill out a form that asks for religious affiliation, consider checking United Church of Christ. As far as CHHSM is concerned, you are a member. Our pews are full. WELCOME!

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