Dear Friends and Family in Christ:
is closing. It is the end of an era.
founded in Keokuk, Iowa, in 1856, as a general store, Younkers has a 162-year
history in our area as a rock-solid department store where a person could find
clothing, shoes, household goods, and sundries of all types and sizes. With its
moderate prices, it has been for many families a launch pad into the school
year and holiday seasons.
happened? I’m no business analyst, but I would imagine that even with all the
mergers and reorganizations that businesses are going through these days to
stay afloat, Younkers didn’t strike the right formula with shoppers to keep it
in profitability. Stores are evolving all the time – look at how much the local
giant HyVee has changed over the years – and they are forced to adjust to new
styles and demands all the time.
changes things and human institutions have to keep up or they will fall by the
wayside. Even the church.
no secret that church membership and participation have been on the downward
slide for the last sixty years. Some churches have closed. Many of people are
hurt and upset about the ever-changing landscape of religious life.
livelihood is wrapped up in the church, so I obviously am watching the trends closely.
But I try to follow Biblical advice as dispersed by angels: do not fear. For
one thing, the gospel isn’t a human institution; it belongs to God. And it
rings as authentic and as necessary as it ever did. The gospel will endure.
we are in the midst of a long historical trend. The trend is on a downward
slope, I know, but it will bottom out. All will not be lost. And if we are
faithful, we will endure, too.
oldest members can remember when churches that were full and overflowing
because of an anomaly in history: World War II. After the war, people went to
church in unprecedented numbers because church gave a coherence to life for the
first generation of human beings that actually had the power to destroy the
world with the nuclear bomb. Church became an integral part of community life,
and Christian norms and customs set the social agenda and the school calendars
for the whole country. Almost everybody went to church. It was not just a place
of worship or social cohesion; it was also a place to see and be seen. Church
and society were almost interchangeable.
turmoil of the sixties, Vietnam, the Sexual Revolution, Women’s Rights’
Movement, and other historical events meant that church’s ascendency was under
pressure. Young people were questioning what their parents took for granted.
The rules and strictures that gave their parents comfort after the war felt
oppressive to the rising generation and church attendance began to fall.
that generation raised children, in the eighties and nineties, the new social
pressures were success and affluence: college, career, home ownership, business
ownership. Kids began to have more opportunities at school and in clubs.
Everyone overscheduled. Back when I was in school during the 70s and 80s,
Wednesday nights were reserved for church nights. Today, even school sports are
scheduled for Sunday mornings. The church has lost its socially privileged
place. Even 9/11 only brought people back to church for a few weeks.
it’s o.k. Nearly everyone who is in church on Sunday morning wants to be there.
I celebrate that fact. No one cares what anyone is wearing. Whew! What a
relief! I’ve listened to other pastors complain ad nauseum about low attendance
and I long ago decided to be grateful for every person in attendance! It feels
counter-cultural at church meetings not to complain.
am not worried about “selling” the gospel, because the gospel speaks for
itself. I am worried about being true to the gospel, and most especially about
demonstrating the central Biblical value of hospitality. My primary concern
always has been and continues to be that our church is a welcoming place – that
everyone who comes through our doors will find an authentically warm welcome,
and that everyone who leaves should have heard at least once that God loves
them. I aspire for visitors to believe that if they should choose us as their
church family, that we will love them, too.
not alone in this regard: “I don’t see the church disappearing, I see the
church changing radically. Churches who are able to invite, include and
celebrate the diversity of humanity, those are the ones that are going to
survive. The ones that can’t do that, the ones that continue to make church
about boundaries and who’s in and who’s out – those churches are going to
become relics, on the fringes of our society” [Deborah Jian Lee, author of
hospitality isn’t easy, especially for introverts. I do understand that. But
imagine the courage it takes to go to a new place, to walk in the door, to not
know what to expect, but to hope for a human connection. All it takes from us
is a smile, a hello, an introduction, and a question: Would you like to sit
in this together! I hope you will join me in this sacred conspiracy to welcome
the whole community, and to let them know: God is love. Maybe it will change
someone’s life. Maybe it will even be ours!
in hope of a great future,
Rev. Dr. Mary N. Pugh