I open my computer this morning to check the news before leaving for church.
A sidebar headline announces,
As I prepare to head out to join in worship, how could I not pause to read the story? The writer announces that,
“A national charity that works to save old buildings estimates that 9,000 religious spaces in Canada will be lost in the next decade, roughly a third of all faith-owned buildings in the country.”
The article goes on to explain that,
“In cities, the increasing secularization of society coupled with new spiritual practices has cut into traditional Christian church attendance. Even rising immigration hasn’t been enough to offset the trend. With fewer people in the pews, and less money in the coffers, rising maintenance costs on old buildings have overwhelmed many congregations.”
The other headline this morning that caught my attention was:
Flight 302 crashed this morning just after takeoff from the Adis Ababa airport; all passengers and crew died.
With these two stories in my mind I begin to lead worship. Of course we pray for the families and all the loved ones of those who died in the plane crash. We hold the anguish and brokenness of these shattered lives deep in our hearts.
After the first service a mother comes to me and says, “My daughter is flying out of Adis Ababa on that same flight tomorrow morning.”
At the end of the second service, a couple tell me that their sister/-in-law was scheduled to fly out of Adis Ababa airport last night or early this morning.
At the beginning of the third service, a woman shares with the congregation that her son was sitting in the Adis Ababa airport this morning waiting for his flight when Ethiopian Flight 302 was called and he watched all the passengers with whom he had shared the waiting room walk down the ramp to board their plane never to be seen again.
And yet, this morning I also hear a beautiful, authentic, touching sermon about how life brings wreckage, chaos, confusion and suffering into peoples’ lives and we dare not offer easy answers.
In our second service a young mother helps leading worship; she came to this country three years ago as a refugee with no English and unable to join in any music. Now she stands in front of the congregation and sings into a microphone leading us all in worship. At communion her son plays a beautiful piece on the piano. Then at the end of the service, during the announcements, a young woman shares a dream she has held for years of travelling to Haiti with a missions team that goes regularly from the church. Her dream was delayed by her responsibility for young children and then by a deadly illness. Now in radiant good health she plans to make the trip to care for desperately disadvantaged children in Port au Prince.
When they close those 9,000 churches, where will people go to share stories of pain and moments of beauty and hope? When the churches are shut who will remind us of the transcendent strength of life that supports us through terrible struggle and pain? Where we will go to be encouraged to open our hearts to beauty and truth? Who will take up the mantle of supporting us in staying aware of the deep mystery of our true nature? Who will challenge us to practice the gentle arts of compassion and kindness?
What will be the contours of our spiritual landscape when 9,000 more places dedicated to the sacred finally turn into condos, restaurants and boutique clothing outlets?
Christoper Page is the rector of St. Philip Anglican Church in Oak Bay, Victoria.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE