Listening to the language of the prayers emanating from the major denominations, the versions of scripture they choose to use, the doctrines they espouse and the social attitudes they promote, one is left with the uncomfortable impression that they are betraying the legacy of Jesus's Love.
Jesus exemplified for us how to approach tradition, dogma, platitude, custom and practice and not be overawed by them and subject to them, but to interpret them anew, making them relevant and lifegiving to each generation.
The early Church was founded on the tidal wave of this radical and innovative ability, to transform a tired past into a vibrant present. Those first decades witnessed unimaginable change and the evolution of the Christian faith into a potent religious movement.
Yet, the signs of decay, that would become its greatest threat, emerged rapidly. Forgetful of Jesus's confidence to engage with the 'now' and speak and act with divine originality, the Church's priority became how to establish roots, security, institutional cohesion, control and political recognition.
For much of its history, the Church has been shielded from the requirement for immense transformation, due to the lack of objective, scientific knowledge. People were susceptible to the Church's subjective influence, and religious speculations and superstitions often encroached upon their humanity.
That stranglehold has been broken.
We are now free, if we choose, to come to our own intelligent assessments about religion and its precepts, based upon facts and experience.
Our modern society can be variously described, but I would suggest, that in many countries, among the new generations, there are certain prevailing and important attitudes at best, that evidentially have merit to them.
There is a concern for tolerance and mutual respect; a desire for equality, including in regard to gender, ethnicity, race, ability, social background, marriage, LGBTQIA+ etc;
a disassociation with patriarchy, hierarchy and inherited privileges;
a concern for the environment, international development and just trading practices;
a regret for past outrages and oppression etc.
This is clearly not a comprehensive list, but it indicates that there are legitimate and significant perceptions abroad in society that are the fruit of considered, moral and rational reflection.
The Church should be celebrating this level of moral awareness, encouraging it and resourcing it and there are many whose hearts incline to do so, but they remain straitjacketed in language, liturgies, structures, buildings, doctrines and versions of scripture that are not fit for purpose.
The Church presents a male God, with a male son, who we are expected to worship.
The language directed to them in prayer is turgid, offered with deference, and adulates their power, majesty and dominion. We are taught that God launched a rescue mission, in which his son came to defeat the devil and win our freedom, dying in the process, and asking us to eat his flesh and drink his blood to remember him.
Then, raised magically from the dead, he calls us to be his body on earth.
Whereas, these beliefs used to hold the public in awe, now they appear to be part of a rather strange fairy tale, crafted in an ancient style, that is clearly not credible to the public, in its present form, and so is being discarded. Yet within this 'fairy tale' lie deep and penetrating truths about God and our human experience, that are being wantonly lost, because the Church has shrunk away from the task of re-presenting them in an understandable idiom for our day.
God, for today's world, defies description. The sound the word points to, represents all that is recognised to be finest and best, loving and just, good and true. To what it points is a mystery. We must rid the world of the trite, limiting and offensive words we have dared to use by way of description.
Likewise, Jesus, defies any descriptions in terms of divinity.
The person the word points to, has come to represent an earthly exemplar of what it means to be finest and best, loving and just, good and true. We must rid the world of the verbal baggage we have dared to pile up around him, obscuring the innocent gentleness of his loving life, with our confusing and contaminating claims, that have stolen him from the very people with whom he chose to spend his time.
The reticence of the Church to evolve its narrative, arises from its unwillingness to relinquish power. It enjoys possessing its palaces of worship, the abbeys, cathedrals and churches across the land, in which the 'kings and rulers' of God's earthly kingdom, parade in their fine vestments and crowns, and receive homage from the people as they come week by week to bow before them and be instructed by them.
The women, who have managed to puncture through the male defences and find their way into positions of power in some of the denominations, imitate the men, calling all to the servitude of their male master God and his 'primogenitus filius' (first born son), and often parading in their 'royal' garments.
Together, these earthly viceroys, relish their power, but forget that humble home, where Mary loved her carpenter child so much, that he, finding no love in the church (synagogue) from which he was thrown out, walked the streets and hill sides loving those he met, in an accessible and relevant manner.
Today Jesus and Mary's loving spirit is rarely found in abbeys, cathedrals and churches and the like. They threw them out long ago. That's why they bar women from the priesthood and gay couples from marriage and the divorced from the Mass and the differently abled from Holy Orders and the majority from Holy Communion.
Jesus and Mary's loving spirit may not be found in the Church, but it is among the people, championing equality, attending to women's rights, working to overcome racial and ethnic discrimination, providing equal marriage, inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community, motivating
and inspiring the questioning, adventuring and exploring among younger generations, at the forefront of scientific endeavour and research, evolving society into an inclusive space where all can find their place and make their contribution.
The people who have been touched by love, respond at times like Jesus did, and look towards the Church, expecting to find welcome and soul mates with whom to share their journey, and are shocked by what they find, especially when they, like Jesus, are rebuffed and rejected.
The result is, the Church is slowly dying.
Its once proud and rich vehicles of power and ostentatious displays of wealth and prestige are crumbling or have been snatched for commercial use.
Where worship once was offered, now tables are laid out for feasts, parties and celebrations. Where sanctuaries once housed the blessed sacrament, lines of spirit bottles hang.
Where the faithful once used to kneel to receive the Mass, they now sup gin, dance and slouch in inebriated revelry.
Yet talk to 'the faithful' and they still exude that complacent confidence that they somehow have an access to God, which the poor rest of humanity don't, and they look at those, who are not in their 'club', with that glazed air of superiority that conveys an inner belief, that they are safe, known, loved and accepted by God, unlike the rest.
Somehow, it never occurs to them, or the Church, that Jesus, having been thrown out by the Church (synagogue), railed against the religious people for this very smugness and chose to spend his time with the people of the streets, as he is doing again today.
Our Open Episcopal Church is not a large denomination, but it has a big heart.
Its vision and primary concern is to love people.
We travel light, like Jesus's first followers.
No buildings or offices, no fixed dogmas and doctrines, no required liturgies and practices, no essential vestments or rituals, no pedantry or politics. Accessible, adaptable, engaged with the 'now', speaking God's lifegiving words and conveying liberating truths in an understandable idiom, relevant and relatable for a modern generation.
Not holed up in cloisters and sanctuaries, but about the
streets, the homes, the community centres, the hospitals, the prisons, the schools, the nursing homes, the workplaces, the pubs and the clubs, offering sacramental, healing and transforming ministry and unconditional love to everyone inclusively.
The large denominations are irritated and threatened by us. Weighed down with centuries of crushing precedent until they are barely able to move, they resent our originality, integrity and versatility, enabling us to reach hearts that are closed to them. They regard us with suspicion, hold us at arms length and bar us from their cliques and clubs.
It is a regrettable human response to innovation, oft repeated throughout history. However, as the large denominations gather ever more closely together for support, as their ships take on water, the Holy Spirit grieves little for their demise, for the power of love is irrepressible. As past edifices, that have ceased to adapt, collapse, new growth and life bursts from the grassroots, and fresh waters of grace flow sweet and pure, refreshing and renewing our present and resourcing us for the future.