For two centuries the cultural stability of America came from it's deep Christian moral identity, but that is no longer the case. We are now a nation adrift.
Thus, in the foolish new world of post-Christian America, fewer and fewer people attend Christian churches. According to Kevin Swanson, church attendance in America has been declining for the past ten years. He says that, "given the current trends, only 4% of Americans will identify as Christian by the year 2045."
And so it is that churches by the thousands are closing their doors. This Recent Article states that 6,000 to 10,000 churches a year are shutting down. The church I attend is probably going to be one of the casualties. The handwriting is, as they say, on the wall.
My church is only a few miles from my house, on Oak Hill Road. I remember when it was the Ettinger Farm. Back in 1978, when I had a chimney cleaning business, I cleaned the fireplace chimney for Joe Ettinger.
In the early to mid 1990s the property was sold. The house, and a few acres were purchased to start a new church: New Hope Bible Fellowship.
The large farmhouse (pictured above) became the parsonage. A very large pole barn behind the house was transformed into the church building.
My family started attending this church in 1999. Our three boys were 11, 8 and 5 years old in 1999.
A lot of people attended the church in 1999. But things have changed. We no longer have services in the cavernous sanctuary. Instead, a remnant of less than 20 people gather in the fellowship hall. My sons are not among them.
|The few people who still attend my church have our Sunday service in this fellowship room. I sit near the center of the picture, where you can see two hymnals on top of each other.|
Another woman who was always in church but isn't any more is "Aunt Ginny." She is 94 and recently went into a rehab center. It's unclear if she will be able to come back to church.
Aunt Ginny's younger sister (by only a few years) is Marion. She has had a lot of surgeries in recent years, but always gets back to church as soon as she can. She comes with her daughter, Debbie, who was a class ahead of me in school. Marion always sits to my right, and she often asks me if I've been behaving myself. :-)
Floyd and Charlene are an older couple who come to our church. They went to the local Methodist church for a long time, but left a year or so back because, as I understand it, the woman minister there is a homosexual. Biblical Christianity and homosexuality are not compatible.
Floyd was a dairy farmer for many years. He got into farming when he was a young man by working as a hired hand on a farm. In time, the farmer he worked for helped him get a farm of his own. Floyd farmed with horses in his early years. I like Floyd a lot.
There are a few other folks who attend. For the most part, they are people I've known for 30 years or more.
|This is a view from the kitchen into the fellowship hall.|
Only one young couple with three children (the only children) attend our church. The father, Jonathan, is Lois Weed's grandson. His children would be her great grandchildren.
I have a picture in my mind of Jonathan's youngest, Erin, a boy of six, going over to talk with Lois during our Sunday morning greeting time, which takes place after we sing a hymn, have prayer requests, and a prayer is said, and before the sermon begins.
I see Lois sitting in her chair, facing Erin, who is standing just a little taller than her. Lois has her hands up, holding each of his arms at shoulder height. She is looking upwards into his face and speaking words I can not hear from where I am on the other side of the room. But I can see Erin looking directly into his great grandmother's eyes, listening intently. I mentally burned that image into my memory. And a month later Lois was no longer with us.
Jonathan and his family have decided to leave and start attending another church. It was so good that they stayed until Lois was gone. Lois had 17 grandchildren and 51 great grandchildren. Two great-great grandchildren (that I know of) are due this year.
So, we will be down to around 12 people for Sunday services. I feel like our church is a metaphor for America.
I haven't told you why no one comes to my church like they once did. That's because I don't want to get into all that. Suffice it to say that there are a multitude of things that conspire in little congregations to, in time, diminish their attendance and close the doors.
I experienced the drama of a once-vibrant rural church being ripped apart by factions within the church when I was a teenager. It was traumatic for me. Didn't the adults realize what a horrible example they were setting?
I have come to realize that we humans have an incredible capacity for justifying any kind of really bad behavior and, sad to say, Christians are not immune to this reality.
The root of the problem is, of course, pride, along with multiple layers of self-deception and self-justification that pride feeds. Love and forgiveness take a back seat when pride is driving a person's attitudes and actions.
There is a verse in Proverbs that comes to my mind...
"These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."
So it is that I hate church drama with a passion, and avoid it like the plague. I resolved as a teenager to never join a church because of that early experience, and I never have.
They had the calling hours and funeral service for Lois Weed in our church, on a Sunday afternoon. Me and Debbie, and her husband, Jerry, spent a few hours cleaning, vacuuming and setting up chairs the day before.
There isn't a lot of parking space so, on the day of the event, me and Jerry helped get cars parked. It was raining. I got good and wet. A couple hundred people showed up for the service. It was real nice.
The following Wednesday I headed over to the church to clean the bathrooms and get the fellowship hall back in shape for the upcoming Sunday service. There was a meal after the funeral and, among other things, I had to scrape dried bits of chocolate brownie out of the carpet.
Those brownies were good, but it's not good when little (and some big) brownie bits fall on the carpet and then get walked over.
As I was there, on my hands and knees, in the reverie of my brownie scraping, it occurred to me that I should take a few pictures. They are pictures for me to remember, and for you to see...
|The sanctuary is cavernous. There are 200 chairs in there and it isn't even half full. Lots of room for kids to play in after church. And it was an ideal place for the once-active AWANA program.|