In a great piece in the The Lutheran, Robert Bacher is co-author of Chasing Down a Rumor: The Death of Mainline Denominations (Augsburg Books, 2005) has some great insights into what the future may hold for what used to be the Mainline" denominations:
What can be done? Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann has a suggestion based on his reading of the parallels between today’s church and society and that of the Hebrew exiles in the Old Testament. These include loss of privilege, certitude and domination.
What Brueggemann “hears” in the voices from those in exile and which he recommends to today’s church is addressing God with “sadness, rage, loss, anger, honesty” and “cadences of new possibilities.” A time of dislocation calls for “ways of thinking and ways of speaking that can give us remedial access to the crisis, that can go deep into the crisis and so avoid denial; and imagine past the crisis and so avoid despair enacted as abdicating silence” (Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope; Fortress Press, 2000).
On the path to new life stand two obstacles marked “denial” and “despair.” Denial blurs reality: Things as they are not literally seen or heard but a strong sense of reality is needed for renewal. Despair thwarts possibility. It impairs the ability to “imagine past” the crisis, picturing a different future and working toward its fulfillment.
Renewal comes from a strong grip on reality and having a delightful array of options. Reality plus possibility equals renewal. Mainlines with ways of thinking, speaking and imagining into and past the crisis will turn out not to be “cracked eggs” but incubators of new life.
Sounds from the keyboard, part of a jazz combo, keep worship upbeat at Immanuel.
Running against the wind will lead to fatigue and a recurrence of despair. Standing still can also get mainlines in trouble and can lead to being blown over.
Leaning into the future is best. Leaning isn’t passive. It involves wanting, receiving, giving and intention. The interplay of identity and mission is the key. Denial and despair are banished in the dawning of resurrection light.
The early disciples learned from the Risen Lord that they weren’t called to burial preparations but to tell others that it wasn’t over, there was still time (John 20:1-10). Our calling is like it: not to bury mainlines but to pray and work for their renewal.