I was idly ruminating today on secularization. Well, this is a fraught and fascinating topic with permutations that sprout daily.
But, this particular morning I was thinking rather more simply about why some Christian churches are vibrant and others not in Canada. Thinking back, the Anglican church, into which I was confirmed at age 13 in 1964 began to lose its youth in the 1960s. And come to think of it, its youth in both senses, the children of the active adult members and the ability of the church itself to speak to youth. This did not seem a problem at the time as no one knew they would never return and the parents of that generation were in their prime, mostly in their late 30s and 40s. Other mainstream Protestant churches followed roughly the same trajectory. The Catholics held on to the 1990s when the same began to happen there, although immigration has softened and slowed that decline.
But the evangelical churches are different. By evangelical, I include Baptists, Pentecostal churches, 'Gospel' churches, 'Bible chapels' and so on, that whole Christian ferment of individual congregations (though usually grouped to pay for the training of pastors). They are nimble and quick on their feet and congregations contain an array of generations still today.
'Why' is the subject of this rumination and I mentioned one hypothesis just now. They are nimble, that is, for one example, they have no difficulty including rock music into their worship. They are relaxed. Sunday best is jeans and shorts and comfortable tops. If you want to wear a suit then do so. They include clubs and activities and chat and laughter. They help each other in times of trouble like a large, happy extended family.
There is more though, and this is the thought that caused me to write this post. I have attended a Baptist church two or three times a year for the past two or three years. I am Catholic now, and raised United Church and Anglican. I have a good sense of the 'feel' of mainstream Canadian Protestantism and Catholicism. Now I am getting a sense of the evangelical stream in Christianity. More than the community, more than the way one dresses is the focus of the underlying, foundational message in these churches. The mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches alike stress sin and guilt and begging for forgiveness. Services are depressing even where the music is uplifting as the overall, holistic aura is down and dark. Evangelical churches present hope and a spirit and flavour of joy.
I must stress it is not the words coming from a pulpit alone, or even primarily these words that form the atmosphere of a church worship service. It is an underlying texture of architecture, attitude, degree of regimentation, dress..... how often people smile, to put it simplest.
Maybe I should have given this post the title: To Smile or not to Smile, that is the answer.