I ventured some initial thoughts here on this book, The Church Has Left the Building: Faith, Parish, and Ministry in the Twenty-First Century, edited by my friend Michael Plekon, whom I have in the past interviewed on here about some of his many other books. Let me continue to unpack some of the riches of this volume.
It is a short book that can easily be read in a sitting, and in several ways that seems appropriate, not least because many of the contributors, including myself, were reflecting on the possibilities that come from church communities being lightened of the burdens of old buildings and dying practices. That is not to say, however, that the tone of the chapters is frivolous or in any way unserious. These are serious times and we face serious challenges. Each of us who contributed a chapter recognizes the seriousness of the challenges facing Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant communities up and down this continent.
But rather than write some maudlin and melancholy tract mourning a lost "Christendom," or breathing fire against "secularization," or ginning up various "options" (Benedictine, Dominican, Augustinian--basta!) each contributor has instead chosen to reflect, often in autobiographical ways, on changing experiences of life in parishes of all traditions and in a variety of places--inner city, suburban, major metropolises, and elsewhere.
While a few contributors ventured to suggest ideas from their own life or pastoral practice that have been helpful in moving towards newer forms of community, everyone was aware of the challenges faced today, and the complexity of them which resist simple solutions in some cases, or applying solutions from one context to a totally different one.
Yet, at the same time, many were also aware that the oft-discussed anxiety about the rising "secularization" of North America, the rising tide of the "nones" when it comes to surveyed religious practice an ecclesial membership, is not what it seems. We are not, in fact, seeing a straightforward exit out of Christian life and community because of a rejection of some creedal claims. Much of the decline in parish life is driven by economics, and rare is the parish today that has long-term families in it because some or all of them have been driven hither and yon in search of employment.