Notes from Diana Butler-Bass’ Saturday morning session at St. John the Divine Anglican Church, Victoria and a troubling question from IASP at the end.

Saturday 17 October 9:00  a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

We live in a spiritual eco-system to which we need to pay attention.

What can we do that connects more deeply with the eco-sytem in which our congregations are situated?

There is a widely perceived and reported decline in conventional religious expression in the English speaking world. Why is this happening? Part of what we perceive as decline is coming about because the questions are changing around us. How do we conceive of:

  • believing
  • belonging
  • behaving

People used to ask “What do you believe?” This was a question about opinion. But the question is shifting to “How do you believe?”

People today assume they know what Christians believe and they want to know how Christians can believe what they are understood to believe in the face of modern knowledge and science.

People are no longer looking for information. They are trying to figure out how we can have a religious identity as a culture. People today want testimony. The want to know, “What is your experience of being a person of faith?”

Out of what looks like decline and the willingness to ask new questions, a new spiritual awakening is emerging. Spiritual awakening is happening. There is new life.

In decline we experience fear, grief, worry, anxiety, and doubt. But we can move through these experiences to anticipation, excitement, curiosity, hope, and creativity. We just need to find the bridge to help us cross over. We need to find the people who can help us cross the bridge. Bridge Sidney Harbour

We need people who can see that the distance between here and hope is not that far. Theological education needs to train people to be bridge escorts, with the skills to help travelers cross between here and there.

We need to talk about what is on the other side of the scary body of water between here and there. We need to redirect peoples’ attentions from the side where we are focused on decline, to the good things on the other side.

What is on the other side of the bridge?

How do we move from what we know to what is coming?

We are good at talking about what we want to leave behind. But, what do we want to cross over to? How do we talk about the sacred on the other side? Spirituality has to have something to do with wonder, love, sacred presence, God.

 Contemporary  social  anthropologist,  David  Buchdahl  has written:
A  change  in  the  conception  of  God  is  a  cultural  event  of some  magnitude,  especially  because  the  character  of  a  culture  is  heavily  influenced  by  the  notion  of  God  that predominates  within  it.
A change in the conception of God is not just a theological event. There is some sort of haunting memory or image of God that shapes our laws, our sense of justice, our culture, and our way of being together as a society.
The late William G. McCloughlin of Brown University said, “Awakening necessitates a new conception of God.”
How do we conceive of God on the other side of the bridge? The God on the other side of the bridge is the God of:
  •  divine wonder
  • transcendence understood in terms of horizons – there is always something just a little beyond our ability to conceptualize
  • the sacred unity of all things
  • the One who call us into love
  • the vivifying energy/presence in all creation

The church is not the only sacred space; the world is profoundly sacred as well. What if this is the journey the entire planet is taking right now? What if we are experiencing a huge shift in global consciousness towards the discovery of the divine immanent in all things and at the borders of our capacity to know?


There was a puzzling irony in this morning’s first session with Diana Butler-Bass. She was talking about asking “new questions,” experiencing a “new spiritual awakening” and finding “new life.” We were encouraged to imagine what it might look like to “get across the bridge from what has been to what needs to come” and to ponder the question “How will we conceive of God on the other side of the bridge?”

But, ironically, in my estimation both last night and this morning, 90% of the assembly was over fifty-years-old. Why is it that only those who are in late middle age seem interested in sitting in a church pew to ask these important questions?

If we are re-imagining God and our ways of doing church for future generations, we might want to ask what it is that is keeping the younger voices from joining our conversation.