As believers, we are called to actively spread God's words and love so that we might make a positive difference in the world. There are various challenges that interfere with our ability to declare the glory of God to the nations. Church attendance in Ireland is declining and a best estimate would suggest that at present only about 7% attend church or service in any given week. There are several reasons for this low number, but one that emerged recently started a conversation with vestry members. At a recent meeting with parents regarding preparation for confirmation, it was suggested that Sunday involvement in sports meant that parents and children were often conflicted. Many children need to attend sporting activities or risk being dropped from their teams. Parents would like to accommodate sporting commitments while at the same time attend church, but sport is important to children and this must be acknowledged. The church has a responsibility to reach out to those who may be missing out on hearing about the Good News of Jesus Christ. Oftentimes the church remains set in its ways, unintentionally asking that society fit into our schedules and programmes. However, the history of the Church shows that Christianity itself emerged out of ever evolving responses to the changing society within which it found itself
Our society is changing faster than ever before and the church can only try to respond by looking at possibilities. St Mary’s Howth has been getting ready (even if we did not realise it) and preparing for the next phase in our journey. Over the past year or so, we have been getting ready and looking forward to see what the possibilities might be for the future generations of worshippers who will attend services in Howth. Mending the church roof was a practical requirement that needed to happen to protect the physical environment from deterioration. However, it was during the process of discernment when we also asked what does the future hold for us? Immanuel Kant once asked: ‘what can I hope for’? and in a similar vein we, perhaps unwittingly, asked similar questions regarding the future of the church.
Looking forward involves assessing how we are doing at present and what will be required to maintain the church into the future. In most successful businesses or companies, management complete strategic action plans with 3, 5 or 10 year implementation goals. A church also needs to plan now, based on current resources, and build action plans to safeguard the future. Hope is the key. If our actions are only directed to the future, we would fall victim to utopias; if they are related only to the present, we should miss our chances. Jürgen Moltmann says: “In hope we link far-off goals within reach. What is last of all gives meaning to the next to last. So in the imaginations of hope there is always a superabundance of what is hoped for. It is only when we want what is now impossible that we arrive at the limits of our possibilities”. This reality of hope allows possibilities to become realistic over time.
Movement towards a shared future begins with a present shared vision. The Harvest service, the arrival of the Archbishop to bless our church and lead baptism encourages us to look to the future. Spending time in the hall over the past number of months has helped us to think about what we can do to attract other non-church going families to St. Mary’s. In order to accommodate new families, we need to be reactive. On Sunday 26th November, we will be holding a new fresh expression type service that will start at 4PM. This new time will allow for those engaging in sporting activities in the morning attend with their families. But more than this, it will be a service where music and liturgy will be a little more modern while keeping within the framework of the traditions and norms of the Church of Ireland. What are we hoping to achieve?
We are hoping to attract new families so that the church so that the future will be secure and built on firm foundations. While there is a lot that might be new to existing parishioners, there will continue to be quite a lot that you will be familiar with also. Over the next 6 months or so, we would like to pilot this fresh expression type service. We hope to have only one service on the morning of the service in order to encourage participation at the 4PM service. We have been gratefully assisted by Holy Trinity Church Rathmines, who share a passion for partnership in worship development and once the pilot phase is over, we can reflect and evaluate where God wants us to go next.