The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
"Our members don't tend to be church-goers," Tara told me. It wasn't an unfriendly comment, just factual.
Tara is a staff member of a non-profit citizen's group that is "dedicated to protecting and enhancing the natural environment and quality of life" in western Colorado. I'm on the staff of an agency that works with churches to encourage action toward social justice and environmental sustainability.
We ended up having a very pleasant conversation. We have many interests, values and causes that we hold in common. But we're not likely to work together much, because her members don't tend to be church-goers, and church-goers are the people that I tend to work with.
That conversation led me to wonder: Why don't most of the good, caring, committed folk who belong to her citizen's group go to church? (On the flip side, maybe Tara has wondered why the area's good church folk don't join her group.) Several possibilities have run through my mind.
But from what I did hear, I get a sense that both the churches and the environmentalists are pretty well settled into option #2. Each sees the other side as a lost cause, and the divide down the middle of the community is deep and wide. The old-time residents, tied to the coal mining economy, are the church-goers. The environmentalist newcomers (who are "spiritual, but not religious") stay away from the churches. Theology and mission are not the only considerations here. Sociology, economics and politics help shape the divide between churched and un-churched.
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Six hours and sixty miles later, I settled in for a stimulating weekend with the leaders of a congregation. They had invited me to meet with them as they explore how to become an intentionally "green" church. It was exciting to see these people claim that new direction -- both as a matter of faithful ministry, and as a path toward their congregation's long-term health.
We spent Saturday evening and Sunday morning exploring theology, values, programs and strategies. In 18 hours, we started to see some of the insights and convictions that can break down the divides that Tara and I see all too often. In various ways, we touched on, wrestled with, and learned from each of the four possibilities that I named above.
Three basic affirmations about the relationship between the church and the un-churched activists stick with me as I reflect on those conversations.
When -- as a matter of faith -- we become deeply involved in our local communities and the world, our congregations will prosper and grow.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org