Permanency with an asterisk…

I’m not particularly religious. It’s been decades since I sat through a church service that didn’t involve a wedding or a funeral. I was raised in the local Methodist church back home as a kid, but drifted away as a teenager. Like the poet said, “Mama tried.” Even as I’ve fallen away from the flock, I’ve maintained what I’d describe as an academic interest in religion. It seems to me that any force that has so powerfully influenced civilizations across thousands of years is probably worth having an interest in.

I may have been raised Methodist, but I don’t have any deep insights into the inner workings of the church, its governing body, or the personalities involved. I honestly hadn’t thought much about it at all until a few weeks ago when someone mentioned attending a meeting to decide if their little church would stand with its parent denomination or brake away. The divide, unsurprisingly, is over the current hot button cultural issues with gender, sexuality, and inclusivity leading the way.

I understand that the issues have already caused people who had been sitting in the same pews for 60 or 70 years to step away on their own before the whole congregation even made a decision. In a community that puts a premium on doing things the way they’ve always been done, that’s quite a statement. Whether that statement is about the church, its congregants, or some people’s determination to be stubbornly intolerant to anything that doesn’t toe the line of their own standards of goodness and right is probably up to debate.

The community where I grew up has always struggled to hang on to its young people. With the double yolk of declining populations and youthful disinterest in organized religion, the local Methodist congregation has already been in steady decline to the point that it’s made up of predominately elderly members. Just having this cultural fight, let alone setting up as a breakaway sect, in my estimation, only has one outcome for this small church nestled hard against Western Maryland’s mountains – its numbers will drop to a point where the congregation is no longer viable regardless of whether they call themselves United Methodists or Global Methodists. It’s already happened to churches in the small towns and villages across the country as younger members shifted to more modern forms of worship. This will be another old-line church that folds as the ground around it shifts in ways that ye olde John Wesley could never have imagined.

As someone who long since gave up practicing religion in any real sense, I’m surprisingly moved by these discussions and their implications. The little white church perched on a hill overlooking town always felt like something solid – a permanent fixture that remained even while the town itself changed. Permanency, as it turns out, should probably come with an asterisk, as terms and conditions apply. 

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