For the second time in ten months our attention has been commanded by a natural catastrophe—there was the tsunami this past December in Southeast Asia and now Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. As I write, Hurricane Ophelia is bearing down on the North Carolina coast, where my family has vacationed for decades.
Some theologians seem to disdain the church as they shine their scholarly light on the church’s triviality, unfaithfulness and banality. Other theologians have the same capacity for critical thinking, but they sit in the pew on Sunday morning, participate in the liturgy, and live out their scholarly vocation in and for the community of faith.
I read over the articles in this issue on teenage spirituality while traveling to my high school reunion in western Pennsylvania. It was a happy coincidence, since a reunion offers a brief reentry to the world of teenage relationships. It is remarkable how the dynamics of personal relations reactivate after half a century.
The day always began at the Fairview Elementary School with the teacher reading ten verses from the Bible, alternating one from the Old with one from the New Testament. We bowed our heads and said the Lord’s Prayer. Then we stood, placed our hands over our hearts, faced the American flag and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
George Lindbeck’s thoughtful reflections in this issue on the state of ecumenism set me to ruminating on my own ecumenical experience. It also reminded me that this journal has been ecumenically minded from its inception. For a time it even described itself as an “ecumenical weekly” (and before that as an “undenominational weekly”).
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).