Summer vacation for me and my family means the beach. Every year, with one or two exceptions, we find a way to travel to the ocean. The place we have settled on is a quiet barrier island in North Carolina. It has no boardwalk, nightclubs or amusement parks, just a grocery store and a fish market.
During the first Iraq war, after the United States started dropping bombs as a prelude to Desert Storm, homiletics professor David Buttrick surveyed mainline churches around the country to see if the war had been mentioned on the previous Sunday, whether in the sermon or in the voicing of prayers and concerns. In the vast majority of cases the answer was no.
Jason Byassee’s account of six Protestant theologians who made the journey to the Roman Catholic Church made me reflect on my own experience of Catholicism. My Presbyterian and Methodist ancestors viewed Rome with suspicion and thinly veiled hostility, though they maintained cordial friendships with individual Catholics.
On the heels of denominational meetings this summer, “Everything you wanted to know about Christianity" is just what I needed. I take my denominational responsibilities seriously. I value the theological traditions. I attend the meetings, serve on the committees and engage in the debates.
From Britain to Denmark, Europe has hundreds of empty churches. The closing of a church is painful—especially in villages where the church for centuries served as a community anchor, even for unbelievers. Efforts are often made to adapt the buildings for a community service, such as a library. Because they are very expensive to maintain, empty churches are more frequently turned into some kind of commercial endeavor. The Church of St. Joseph in Arnhem, Netherlands, still owned by the Catholic Church, has been turned into a skate park. The Netherlands has the largest number of idle church buildings. Roman Catholic leaders in Holland estimate that within a decade two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be closed, and 700 of the country’s Protestant churches will likely close over the next four years (Wall Street Journal, January 2).