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Ron Gilder ponders Christianity and its role in society.
A short time ago I was watching a BBC Religious programme on YouTube. A group of women and men were discussing religious trends in England today. There was a wide mix of religions including humanists, atheists and agnostics. It was agreed that Christianity was losing ground more than all other religions.
A Bishop spoke and said in the most recent census 45% of English people put themselves as Anglicans, however he made no response when told that fewer than 5% of the 45% actually attended worship. The census showed the largest growing group in England were "nones". That is, those who claimed no religion at all.
Those churches who said they were growing, it was found, were just declining at a slower rate than others. This downward trend is much the same in the Western world. The question is why? When did it start the decline?
My own belief is that it started around the middle of the fourth century. Although in Louise Milligan's book, Cardinal, The rise and fall of George Pell, she says some priests in Australia believed problems started in the church around the second century, that is ever since the Church became institutionalised.
Even the Reformation has not stopped us having large church buildings with too few attending worship today.
While working at Dunedin Hospital my job was to prepare men for mainly heart surgery. These men came from all walks of life, with a wide age range.
Dying through heart surgery is a relatively low risk, however, they all believed they were facing death. When asked what my qualifications were for shaving all the hair off their bodies, I said a Presbyterian minister. I thought this might stifle conversation, but it often opened conversation.
The men spoke openly about their lives. Of upwards of about 1000 men I spoke to over the years, all had started their lives baptised into a church. They all went to Sunday school and youth groups. Some took an active role in the Open Air Campaigners.
Some of the older ones left the church because of what their fathers saw while at World War 2. They saw all the affluence of the church and the poverty and neglect surrounding the church.
Too many men who were taking an active role left the church when they were dropped from church duties and not given any reason.
A much larger number left because they openly questioned aspects of the Bible. They were told bluntly to never question the Bible. They were angry at first, as they felt an instant wall between themselves and the minister. A large number became tired of listening to long, boring sermons.
In all the years of talking with these men, they all talked about death, they were not scared to die and had no interest in heaven or hell.
After surgery most talked about renewing relationships. One man wanted to tell his wife he loved her. He hadn't told her in nearly 60 years. Many wanted to start watching grandchildren playing sport on Sunday mornings. Sunday was to be a family day. They were glad for a second chance to do these things.
The greatest privilege for me for over 12 years was to listen to these men. I was there to prepare them for surgery to listen and not judge them. Every word they said had meaning.
In all my ministry and working with the men at Dunedin Hospital I found a few things from the people I've met that I know to be true. They are:
1.Whoever or whatever we are, everyone wants to be listened to.
2.Everyone wants a place they can call home.
3.Everyone wants good health.
4.Everyone wants happiness.
5.Everyone wants to love and be loved.
- Rev Ron Gilder is a retired Presbyterian minister.