Is the Church Out of Touch?

It may be wrong of me, but I’ll hazard a guess that lots of people are returning to work today with mixed feelings — glad to get away from unrelieved family, but distinctly dyspeptic and concerned about their bank balance. A few will have left their Christmas tree up and will return in the evening to continue celebrating, albeit in a minor key. And in between, what? I daresay a certain amount of moaning and groaning, sharp-tongued responses to those who ask clumsy questions, and a general rejoicing that there are only four working days to go before the week-end. In other words, there is a very clear divide between Church-speak — we are celebrating the Incarnation, and how! — and ordinary-human-being-speak — we’ve had our holiday, now it’s back to the rat-race. Is that why the Church so often seems to be out of touch with people’s lives? Where once it turned pagan/folk celebrations into Church festivals, it now grimly argues that those same festivals are being obscured by contemporary secularity.

Those of us who are believers need to reflect on the way in which we present our faith to others. Do we make it sound attractive or off-putting? Are we more interested in proving others wrong than in attaining a clear-eyed vision of the truth? I am sometimes criticized for not doing enough to defend Catholicism, which seems to mean that I have not condemned enough people or argued sufficiently over intricate points of observance. My usual response, that I am much more interested in spreading faith than in defending it, is clearly regarded as inadequate. I certainly don’t think that we can be wishy-washy about what we believe or why, but I have never found anyone drawn to Christ through being rapped over the knuckles, so to say. The two saints we commemorate today, St Basil the Great and St Geregory Nazianzen, illustrate this in different ways.

It was St Basil the Great’s meeting with Eustathius of Sebaste, rather than having grown up in a remarkably saintly family, that, by his own account, changed his life:

I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labours, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingness of the wisdom of the princes of this world.

Despite his firm opposition to Arianism, Basil was never unwilling to see the good in his opponents, and although he was quite capable of criticizing public officials or unworthy clergy, he more than made up for his hot temper and sometimes imperious manner by his generosity and very real concern for the poor. His friend Gregory, theologian par excellence, was much less disputacious, a true contemplative whose discourses and poetry drew many to reflect more deeply on the truths of Christianity. I wonder how we measure up to men like these. Do we draw others to Christ, or do we repel them?

There are many in Britain today who never see the inside of a church save for the occasional wedding or funeral and who are as devoid of any Christian background as it is possible to be. The Bible is an unfamiliar book, while the Christian calendar and its rituals have to be explained in the simplest possible terms because of complete unfamiliarity with the language of the liturgy. It is in such a world that we are called to proclaim Christ; and it is for us, as ordinary Christians, to respond to the challenge. If we are out of touch, what chance have we of showing forth the beauty and holiness of Him whom we adore?


13 thoughts on “Is the Church Out of Touch?”

  1. Simplicity of the message is the key to attracting more people to Christian faith. Love God and your neighbour. Do we need anything more. God is full of grace. Jesus came in peace and love for everyone and died to save the world from war, hatred and violence.

    • Unfortunately, simplicity is often misinterpreted as meaning we should leave out everything that is difficult or contrary to our own personal preferences. I personally find the study of orthodoxy (with a small ‘o’) immensely rewarding. The more theology I read, the more I find to wonder and rejoice.

  2. “Basil was never unwilling to see the good in his opponents, and although he was quite capable of criticizing public officials or unworthy clergy, he more than made up for his hot temper and sometimes imperious manner by his generosity and very real concern for the poor.”

    So, we can balance a trait less good against a good trait? There maybe hope for me yet!

  3. It took almost thirty years to get me back inside a church .
    I was alienated by infighting , perceived hypocrisy and a list of don’ts , musts, and oughts .
    It took a sensitive friend guided by God , to befriend and explain the gospel simply and what Jesus had done in her life,to help me into a church .
    There was patience, never condemnation at backsliding and endless encouragement. I have followed her example and have seen fruit from it in most surprising ways .
    This may be controversial , but our soup kitchen is also Church to many. Why ? Because there the people accessing it receive the love of Jesus in practical ways. There they meet with Him through us and we have shared our stories with them . Above all our we share our hope .

    • That’s a very Benedictine response, if I may say so. Benedict lays great stress on the importance of hospitality or welcoming others. I often think the meals we share with guests and visitors are an imporatnt way of sharing the gospel.

  4. On your latter point, I spent a good deal of last year after hearing the same question at Mass trying to think how we explain outprselves to those who have grown up with zero knowledge. It is easy perhaps if they are interested. But when they have accepted the secular mind set as normal how can we even share our faith in any meaningful way? I know that there is no simple answer or it would be out there already in tbe wild. I find it hard within my family as in those who have married into it ……

  5. I love Jesus because he was a storyteller and I like a good story. I feel the parables of the Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan are good stories to live your life by.

  6. Thank you again. I am learning the important truth of how and when to give people information to reflect on when asked and when it is appropriate. Letting the Holy Spirit guide me and prayer has helped me. Looking back at my mistakes and lack of knowledge, someone using the knuckle approach would have further alienated me. Leading me to truth with patience as God has treated me should be what I remember especially with those close to me. I realise now they watch what I do, not so much what I say. This makes me accountable for what I do and not always easy since I fall regularly. May God continue to help me with His grace to lead others to Him.

  7. Such an interesting article, Sister. It upsets me too that a narrow vision of church is all that seems to come from those in leadership. Yes, the foodbank is definitely church. Family is small church, and Eucharist/ communion is wherever two or three are gathered. I tend to explain Christ as Love, Life, Energy, Authenticity….. our gift of each breath, as the Trinity within us just as we fully see that in Jesus. Religious language too often repels and it’s helpful to find a new language to share which all searchers have in common. We usually discover deep mutual understanding rather than that which separates.

  8. What a thoughtful post. As my spouse returns to work today after an enforced two week break (her workplace closed down completely to save on energy costs) she is actually pondering on retirement next September and has spent some time productively applying for her State Pension, which coupled with her workplace pension means that she will only be marginally worse off when she retires.

    But her Christmas has been reflective, wondering about the future, talking about helping me, more in church and also doing other things, like house hunting for us to down size after retirement. I’m not sure how she will adjust, she has worked continuously since she was 16 years old, and over 43 years in her current job, which has provided her with a reasonable, but not extravagent pension. It took me about six months to adjust after retirement in 2009, although I was plunged headlong into various forms of ministry in a five church Anglican Benefice, while also discerning a vocation. In many ways, this meant commuting to a parish, 50 miles from home, until I moved to a local parish, about 300 yards from our front door, which has meant a slow down, but also the commencement of 3 years of training for Lay Ministry, which resulted in the grant of a Bishops Licence in May last year. This is an unpaid role, and enables me to be involved in activities outside the parish in the community and in interfaith work alongside our Community Deacon.

    The point being to all of this, I continue to have a routine and discipline, which starts with Morning Prayer and works itself out throughout each day, But also ample time for leisure and reading, My spouse has adjusted to my being out on weekends and off training midweek and is trying to work out how this will play out with her. Perhaps she will do something completely different from me, as her interests lie more towards arts and crafts, but whatever she does, she will need to adjust to no work routine and to develop her own

    God will feature in this somewhere, but she has yet to discern what that will be. Possibly being involved in creative action in our parish, flower arranging being one thing that she is good at. She is Anglican, but goes to her childhood parish where she was baptized and confirmed, will she move to be with me – only time will tell, as her loyalty is given currently to them.

    But God is the God of surprises as he is continually proving in my life, and soon, hopefully in hers.

  9. The article is a good wake up call, but, does not make the case for being out of touch. There is a muddle between what the Church should do and what Catholics are doing
    and need to do. There is also a muddle between explaining the Faith and defending the Faith.

    The answer is Apologetics. Apologetics is both explaining and defending the Faith. Used properly by trained people as part of a campaign, it need not cause antagonism, being an instrument for exposing the Truth.

    Also, the difference between ancient times and now, is that then, there was only one church, the Catholic Church, and every one calling himself a Christian and is outside her was branded a heretic. Now, the setup is not exactly that. God bless.

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