At ordination Presbyterian ministers promise to give their “energy, intelligence, imagination and love” to ministry. Sometimes just managing the institution of the church exhausts such capacities. Sometimes attending to the committees, task forces, program evaluations, staff supervision and budgets is all-consuming.
One of my laments over the years has been over the dreadful image of clergy in popular media. With some notable exceptions, ministers are portrayed as inept, shallow, out of touch with the world and basically irrelevant—like Chaplain Mulcahy in the old M*A*S*H television series.
Those of us who work in the church know how trivial, vain and self-serving the “institutional” church (as we used to call it in seminary—as if there were any other kind) can be. But we also wonder what we would do without the church. How could you celebrate Christmas without the church? How could you wake up in the dark of Easter morning without the church?
"Easter is a terrific story,” says Tony Hendra, an actor, satirist and author of the wonderful book Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Life. So it is, and so we rediscover each year as we turn to the familiar narratives. The Gospels’ accounts are themselves modest, however. Curiously missing is any note of celebration.
By one estimate 7,000 churches close down each year in the United States. A 2012 study predicted that 20 percent of the churches in Philadelphia would close within ten years. Many of these churches are architectural gems. Razing these buildings can be very expensive. A more satisfactory solution is to repurpose them, turning them into art and culture centers or housing units. The Mount Airy Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia is having 20 condominiums built on its property. The sanctuary will be leased back to the congregation for its continued use (Philadelphia Inquirer, August 4).