The following post is part of a series the Rev. Christopher Page is offering on his blog site, regarding his experience during the pandemic. It was posted at inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com and is posted here by permission.
Forty years ago today, I stood in front of a packed congregation in a large church on Bloor Street in Toronto. I was one of twelve people being ordained deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada.
For virtually all of the forty years since that 20 May in 1980, I have ministered within this religious organization under sentence of death… not my death, but the death of the church. The dire predictions of the imminent demise of the Anglican Church of Canada have been relentless. Again and again I have heard warnings that every church will soon be closed. But it has never happened… until now.
Today, every church is closed, not just Anglican Churches but Roman Catholic, United, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal, Orthodox – all closed, all across the country, in fact, all over the world.
No one is gathering physically for public worship
I do not think the prophets of doom prognosticating the closure of the Anglican Church quite had in mind the situation we face today. And, what they certainly never imagined is the degree of energy, creativity, commitment and sheer grit and determination that is keeping us afloat even though shut out from the buildings to which we are so attached.
It is true that, during the years of my ordained ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada there have been churches that have been forced to shut their doors. One of the two churches in which I was first rector in rural Manitoba is now closed, the other has amalgamated with the local Lutheran congregation. In any measurable quantifiable terms, we are a community that is diminished from the one in which I was launched into ordained ministry under the episcopal hand of Suffragan Bishop of Toronto The Rt. Rev. Alan Reed. The forty years of my ministry have been a time of measurable loss in the church.
Several years ago I was part of a gathering of Anglicans in which we were joined in lamentation for our losses. As we beat our breasts about the failure of our church, one intrepid colleague in the clergy rose and suggested that perhaps getting smaller was not the worst thing in the world. Perhaps, he dared suggest, we should be grateful for the faithful remnant who remained and rejoice in their determination to stay faithful within this diminished community of faith. When he finished, another member of the clergy rushed to the microphone and declared, “Remnant theology is a cop-out!” I suppose this was intended to indicate that finding comfort in the faithful remnant was nothing but a device to avoid facing our failures.
It is possible that I may simply be seeking to excuse the failure of forty years of ordained ministry. But the church story that interests me does not depend upon numbers. It is not measurable in terms of a financial bottom line.
I am not particularly interested in measurables or quantifiables. They are not the whole narrative or even the most important part of our story.
For me, the important story of the past forty years as I have experienced the church, is told by the countless acts of love and sacrificial giving I have witnessed taking place through our community. I am more interested in seeing the hearts that have softened and opened as we have grown to be a more welcoming, open and compassionate community. I am drawn to the multitude of examples I have witnessed of people being moved to reach out with mercy and grace to the community beyond our little group.
These COVID days may leave us further depleted in numbers. But, they have not defeated the Spirit of Christ who lives within us and moves us to be people of compassion and grace. Our life together looks different than it did forty years ago when I started out in this business. It certainly will look vastly different as the COVID dust begins to settle.
All the prophets of doom who have plagued my years of ministry notwithstanding, no one knows what the future is going to look like. The only thing of which we can be sure is that those who continue to walk in faith will grow in love. Communities that practice love will never become extinct. There is always hope, no matter where the road may lead from here. Forty years from now, the light will continue to radiate from groups of whatever size who are committed to walking together in faith.