There is a lot of talk these days in some circles about “church decline.” The conversation is not new, nor surprising. But it seems to take on renewed energy as two prominent United Church congregations in the city where I live announce plans to amalgamate their communities.

No doubt, if you think only in terms of measurables and quantifiables, in general the church scene is not encouraging. It seems on the whole that attendance is down, financial offerings are dropping, and there are fewer people to do the work essential to keeping the church in operation. There are so many reasons for these challenging realities most of which are vastly beyond anyone’s control. The undeniable reality is that the context in which we are challenged to do church has changed. There is less space for church in the lives of the majority of the population, And, even for those for whom church remains an important commitment, the pressures of life and financial reality make weekly attendance and financial support increasingly difficult.

The myriad of “solutions” proposed to stem the tide of departures and disinterest is dizzying; most of them have proven to be generally ineffective. As much as we implement shiny polished new programs, the relentless drain on energy continues.

It is impossible to know what the future will bring. The only thing of which we can be sure of is that the future will not look like the present, and even less will it look like the past. The 1950’s are over. All we can do is move forward into the unknown putting one foot in front of the other seeking, along the way, to walk with confidence, hope, and trust and keeping our eye on the vision.

On the first Sunday of Advent I pointed in my sermon to the question Jesus is said to have asked in Matthew 24:

Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? (Matthew 24:45)

I suggested that this question offers a blueprint for what Jesus thought a Christian life is intended to be and so also announces his vision for the church. We exist to “give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time.” We are to be food for the well-being of the world. We will be food for others when we nurture the qualities of love, gentleness, kindness, goodness and compassion, and embody these qualities in our own lives.

As long as churches continue to nourish love and kindness, we do not really need to worry about the miserable measurables. Perhaps attendance will decline. It is possible there will be fewer resources available moving ahead. But, Love always finds a way. The Spirit will never be stopped as long as hearts remain open to the movement of that truth and beauty which Jesus embodied.

Everywhere I look in the church I see faithfulness, compassion and kindness. I experience generosity, tenderness, and a deep desire to share in the work of healing and reconciliation to which Jesus entrusted those who would live as his disciples. It may not always look flashy, and it may not fill our pews, but I know that Love is at work in communities of faith. I know we are growing day by day in reaching towards our aim to be life-giving food for the world.

What more could we possibly hope for the church to be?

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Saanich congregations amalgamate to form largest United Church on Vancouver Island