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COP26 and “Revitalization” – Making a “faith transition”

Currently taking place in Glasgow, United Kingdom, is the global climate change conference known as COP26.

The Conference itself is a star-studded, headline-making event. And, collectively, the series of COP Conferences might be thought of perhaps humanity’s greatest effort to save itself from planetary doom.

Juxtaposed to a report last month that median worship attendance went from 137 in 2000 to 65 in 2020, it brings to light the best way of framing the phenomenon of denominational decline:

The UMC is not necessarily the Titanic with its deck chairs – it’s humanity causing its own warming (on track for death) on Earth.

We are our own problem – we are the problem.

To be specific, it is our centers of power that are problematic. No, I do not mean elected church leaders and staff executives – I mean the schools of thought that dominate our beliefs of how Church should be.

So, this brings us to what we are considering today, which is that:

The main context of “re-vitalization” should not be the local church (nor is it the community or neighborhood). It is people’s minds.

Where are the centers of Church power?

According to the Faith Communities Today survey, or FACT, “half of the nation’s congregations were in the South, even though only 38% of the U.S. population lives there.”

This should come as no surprise to those of us who understand the place of Church in the American social fabric. The Church plays a prominent role in both the society and culture of the South (and the Mid-west, I believe).

This is both a result and a cause of the idea of Church as an actuator of the government or a facilitator of the life of a community.

This is evidenced by the denomination’s rewarding of clergy and churches who partner with local governments and non-profits in “official” ways. And, there is also this acceptance that a typical United Methodist Church will hold in its membership civic leaders in the community.

So, “revitalization,” while we would never admit this, is another way of saying, the “South-ification” (and even Mid-west-ification) of the denomination.

That is, “South” as both a geographic and a cultural identity – an idea that lives beyond, but is concentrated within, geographical boundaries.

Where are the leading edges?

Obviously, in and of itself, the South (and the Mid-west) is not “bad.”

I mean, as a person that has only lived in the Los Angeles area, my visits to the South and Mid-west have often affirmed my love of LA, sure. But, my point is not about a place. What I am trying to get us to admit is that the idea of Church that comes out of the idea of the South is itself a manifestation of power.

Therefore, while we should be mindful of the temptation of South-ification, our attention (and our denominational programming and resourcing) should go elsewhere.

Where?

Well, to understand this, we should learn from the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, speaking at the opening ceremony of COP26 who said:

“The central banks of the wealthiest countries engaged in $25 trillion of quantitative easing in the last 13 years. Twenty-five trillion. Of that, $9 trillion was in the last 18 months to fight the pandemic. Had we used that $25 trillion to purchase bonds to finance the energy transition, or the transition of how we eat or how we move ourselves in transport, we would now today be reaching that 1.5 degrees limit that is so vital to us. I say to you today in Glasgow that an annual increase in the SDRs of $500 billion a year for 20 years, put in a trust to finance the transition, is the real gap, Secretary-General, that we need to close, not the $50 billion being proposed for adaptation. And if $500 billion sounds big to you, guess what: It is just 2% of the $25 trillion. This is the sword we need to wield.”

In other words, much like the actual way to address climate change is to redirect the funds used by the centers of power to prop up economies (that often generate more wealth for the already wealthy) towards an “energy transition,” denominations should invest in the “faith transition.”

Building for a “faith transition”

The activities of faith, historically packaged and centered in local church membership, are being unbundled – that is the “faith transition.”

A 53% decline in median worship attendance over the past two decades should be making this clear by now. And, the potential for those of us in the margins is great as we experience this first-hand.

So, here’s how I think we build for it:

  1. De-prioritize “transformation” – It’s not our job anymore to convince the usual, typical, and the powerful of the Church to be more like the margins. In fact, they would rather us not bother them with such things.
  2. Prioritize “transfiguration” – It’s our job now as the BIPOC and people of other communities of the margins to come up with the many forms of faith that come about when we cease to see the usual, typical, and the powerful as the standard to which to compare ourselves.

There is obviously more to this and we will be getting into that over time. But, it is important for us to make this transition of who or what is the standard-bearer of the church, not just physically, but in our own mind.