As a millennial culture watcher, I am troubled by what I see taking root in the land beyond the church doors and our inability to engage with sincerity and theological lenses.
By Rev. Allie McDougall
As one of the diocese’s newest priests and an Anglican of a mere six years, I often find myself troubled by conversations around church decline, outreach, and evangelism.
These are weighty realities that demand our attention. Yes, decline is palpable and yes, we must do outreach and evangelism. But do we know what’s out there, beyond the walls of our churches?
One of the hurdles to effective outreach and evangelism is that Anglican parishes have been, for the most part, closed ecosystems that possess their own quirks and cultural norms. There can be a steep learning curve for newcomers in our communities – from liturgical norms to coffee hour etiquette.
Most of our churches have been faithfully served for decades by static groups who, prior to the 2040 alarm bells being rung, had not had to examine the accessibility or relevance of their parish life. Because we are in decline, there is a prevailing assumption that the amorphous, ill-defined “secular” world has no need of us and we have nothing to offer them, except perhaps a venue to host grandma and grandpa’s funerals someday. I don’t believe this is true.
The English theological tradition known as Radical Orthodoxy (don’t let the name scare you) theorizes that all of creation participates in the being of God and that this includes the cultural containers through which we create meaning, consciously and unconsciously.
Put another way, it’s God’s universe and we’re all living and making meaning in it.
When we think this way about the entirety of the human experience, the “secular” world is no longer an enemy, but a source of information and insight into the work of God beyond the walls of the church. It also helps Christians see and identify cultural trends that speak to the existential, theological, and spiritual anxieties that underpin the life outside our church walls. While our parish communities may be seen as distinct from their surroundings, we must not forget that the people who these communities are comprised of are also navigating these cultural waters.
Knowing our context, our mission field requires us to pay attention and have curiosity about things that are not normally spoken about in the life of our churches. These subjects might not even be relevant to the people who make up our current membership profile. If we hope to persist in ministry and have a sustainable future as communities of the Christian faith, we must be able to look out and interpret what is being expressed by a normative culture that has rejected the Christendom of the 20th century and embraced new mythologies, messiahs, and rituals.
As a millennial culture watcher, I am troubled by what I see taking root in the land beyond the church doors and our inability to engage with sincerity and theological lenses. Reality TV, TikTok, the “manosphere”, MAiD, inflation, contemporary work culture, pornography, the housing market, social media influencers, mental illness, pop music, and just about everything else under the Sun informs and shapes the state of the human experience, where God is at work, and where the hope of the Gospel is needed.
We don’t know what we don’t know about the rapidly changing world in which we are situated, but once we do know we can be empowered to respond. In the great, diverse landscape of the Church Catholic, we can only be ourselves. There are spiritually rich and profound aspects of our Anglican tradition that can speak new life and bring comfort to the post-pandemic zeitgeist. On our part, the task of cultural engagement requires self-awareness creativity, and courage to step outside of our Huron Anglican comfort zones and gaze into the unknown. This is work cannot be done alone – allow me to share my field notes.
Rev. Allie McDougall is the Curate at St. Paul’s and St. James', Stratford.