“In our day the church building was used a lot as well.” That’s part of the conversation that I had with a couple last evening. They were visiting at an event we were holding in partnership with another local organization to help promote literacy among children in our community. This very kind lady said she used to attend services in the original building, in the sixties and seventies. She said, “We lived right across the street, so of course we were here every Sunday.” For her it seemed, that belonging to a church was about time. She went on to tell me of the many different functions that they held, which took place on several different nights of the week. And then she drifted into more quiet tones when she realized that at some point all those activities eventually stopped, the people dwindled and the building was sold.
That’s the way it was in this community and many others in our nation. People went to church, because that’s just what you did. It was a predominantly Christian-influenced society. The story of the original congregation is an all too familiar story that has continued to happen over the course of these many decades. As inward focused activity lost its appeal, so did its effect on many of the people. The result was, more elbow room in the pews, and more echoes in the hallways.
Meanwhile, outside those walls, society was changing and the people were not prepared for to engage it. Two parent, European immigrant/descendant, single income homes are no longer the norm, times have changed. We work more, play more, we rest less and we are restless. Sundays are really hold no different options than any other day of the week. We are no longer influenced by our society to make God-honouring choices; rather we have come to a place where we need to make those choices often in spite of the culture around us. The numbers suggest that few of us are doing this well or consistently. All of this is to say that I very much want to agree with Charles Taylor’s assessment of our society, in his book A Secular Age. Taylor, as part of his definition of this secular age says, “The shift to secularity in this sense consists, among other things, of a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace.” (Loc. 60-61)
In light of this the temptation, for church leaders and parishioners alike, may be to figure out ways to get people and keep them in the building. But what if the issue isn’t “place”; what if the issue is “time”? Taylor also speaks into this notion of time:
“People who are in the saeculum (secular), are embedded in ordinary time, they are living the life of ordinary time; as against those who have turned away from tis in order to live closer to eternity. The word is thus used for ordinary as against higher time.” (Loc 885)
I think Taylor has given us something to consider or reconsider. One of the reasons that even professing Christ following people are feeling less effective within their daily and weekly lives is due to the fact that they’ve lost track of time. We look at time in an ordinary way giving little consideration to the infinitely outstretched immeasurable amount time that we are promised. We rise in elation and plunge in despair based on the experience of egocentric moments. It’s as though we’ve lost connection or understanding of God’s eternal desires for us as a world and a global community.
The challenge for us is to redeem the time we are given on this day in such a way that it builds into the eternity of our certain hope.: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17) Taylor says, “Our past is sedimented in our present, and we are doomed to misidentify ourselves, as long as we can’t do justice to where we come from.” (Loc. 457) May we no longer be people who lose our identity; rather let us be those who are certain of whose we are, even when the world around us is no longer seems to reflect our faith in God. May we be people who make wise and prudent choices in the world, while not being consumed by the world. May we be people who care less about the number of people in our church buildings and who care more about the lives of people around us every day. May we be people who cling first to our God, knowing that He continues to be sovereign, despite societal ignorance toward him and may move through our days with His agenda in the knowledge that he will ultimately fulfill His purposes, in His time:
“But for the ordinary householder this answer seems to require something paradoxical: living in all the practices and institutions of flourishing, but at the same time not fully in them. Being in them but not of them; being in them, but yet at a distance, ready to lose them.” (Loc. 1333-1335)
- What choices are you making based on “ordinary” time rather than “eternal” time, and what will you do to address that imbalance?
- How can churches redeem time and space in a world where they are one choice among many?
P.S. – Read this if you like. I think it models the ideas of space and time for us very well: it’s the response of Coptic Bishop Angaelos to the martyrdom of 21 Egyptians believers last week.