Many years ago, while I was still in seminary, one of the retired priests was known to go on and on about the church being a dinosaur, a museum. He frequently proclaimed that if we did not enter into the life of the community we were a part of , become more active in causes, enter into the life of the people more fully, or make changes to speak to the people differently then we were going to become irrevalent. At the time many of us thought the man was foolish and bitter. But nearly thirty years later I find myself thinking about this priest and what it was he was continuously saying and I find myself contemplating the validity of it in light of the question " Would anyone notice if I was not here?"
The church and her people get caught up in surviving and as a result what is happening in the neighbourhood and community as a whole is easily overlooked. Outreach is considered a strain or a drain on the already limited resources and the body becomes more and more inward looking. Naval gazing! I remember being incredibly frustrated with the naval gazing of a particular congregation and during the service I asked everyone there to stand up, bend over and look at their belly buttons, then I asked what do you see? One little voice of a child, about 3 years old piped up and said "Reverend, I can't see anything except my belly button!" When all we see is our own selves, and do not look outward we have long begun to decline. Surviving to keep a building in place but not responding and doing ministry in our local neighbourhood, town or the world spells demise. And an honest answer to the question "Would anyone notice if I was not here?" would be no.
What would be missed after all if the moral and ethical voice of the church community has been lost or forgone to another organization? Why would the church be missed if the spiritual needs are being fed elsewhere? Who would miss us if another form of worship is found to be more satisfying? Various organizations have stepped in to respond where the church has not and the need that was once addressed by the church, which pulled a community together, has been replaced by trauma committees, food banks, clubs, local municipal councils and international development organizations. And the church, it is naval gazing itself into extinction! I know this sounds harsh and I may seem as bitter as the priest that sounded this particular mantra nearly thirty years ago but I am not bitter merely worried about how we have and are considering our role both presently and on into the future for a new generation. Will anyone even notice if we are not here?