I'm experiencing some dissonance in my life between my experience and what I "know" to be true.
On the one hand, I believe we are entering a new dark ages. My radar tells me that we are entering a period of steep moral decline, mass economic poverty, widespread ignorance and academic failure, decline in the arts, the disintegration of religious institutions and their positive impact on society, and are on the verge of widespread violence, particularly in places like the U.S. where peace once reigned. Yeah, I know you think I'm nuts. Which leads me to this link that a friend posted on Facebook today.
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Syracuse is ranked #16 on the chart of Most Post-Christian cities. Albany (#1) and Buffalo (#8) are higher with Rochester (#21) close behind. A post-Christian culture is one where Christianity is no longer the dominant meta-narrative amongst the people's beliefs. It's a unchurched culture -- one that doesn't go to church and has no history of ever going to church, as opposed to a dechurched culture -- one that has a memory of church and Christianity, even if it isn't currently practiced.
Many of my evangelical friends locally frequently talk about how we are living in a post-Christian context. I have been saying this for a very long time. I remember as far back as the early '90's when a friend of mine worked at Lechmere's, an electronics boutique that used to be in what was then known as Carousel Mall, now Destiny USA. On the loading dock one day he got fed up with a co-worker's filthy language. After the guy uttered a "Jesus Christ" as an expletive again for the umpteenth time, my friend said to him, "I didn't know you were a religious guy." The guy was dumb founded and said, "Religious guy?" My buddy said, "Yeah, you keep talking about Jesus Christ." The guy replied with all seriousness, "What's Jesus Christ have to do with religion?"
That happened circa 1990, plus or minus a few years, right at the same time my mother-in-law told me the story of shopping for an Easter card. She overheard two other shoppers near her have this conversation, "Look at this! Now they are trying to make Easter a religious holiday!" as she held up an Easter card. Incredulously the other said, "I can't believe they would do that." True story.
Yet my experience these days doesn't match up with either the linked chart above or of my friend or mother-in-law -- especially since I started wearing a collar and am the pastor of an Anglican (traditional) church. In the last several months since being ordained first a deacon and now a priest in the Anglican church, my eyes have been opened to a whole new world of ministry opportunities. If my evangelical friends knew what I have experienced since I started wearing a clergy shirt with a collar, they would run to the store to get one.
My experience here in Central New York tells me that so many people are still lapsed or marginally practicing Roman Catholics or even evangelicals, instead of being "Post-Christian". Further, it has shown me that many just don't know what to do with evangelicals. Not in an exasperated sense but literally just don't know how to relate.
People seem to relate more easily when I say, "St. Andrew's", or that I'm a "priest", or when I describe my church service, which is liturgical. Amongst unchurched people, I have found deep suspicion of evangelicals or evangelical churches. It's like they don't know what do with a church name that's not traditional.
Now that I am also, "Fr. Steve" as well as "Pastor Steve", I find unchurched people more comfortable with my priestly role. It's like they know how to relate to me, despite the fact I'm married and have kids. At the same time Evangelicals are confused and suspicious of me!
When I have the collar on and am in public, people smile and talk to me all the time. Stuff that never happened as an evangelical pastor. I have so many more opportunities to pray for people and sometimes, exhort them, even strongly to follow Christ. Stuff that if I would have tried as an evangelical I would have been marginalized as being pushy. I don't wear a clerical shirt every day, but when I do and I'm out in public I seem to have new and wonderful ministry experiences that never happened to me in my 15+ years as an evangelical pastor.
Now I'm sure, there is something else going on also. I'm sure there are people who look at me as a creeper to watch out for and make sure I'm not near their kids. This because of the Roman Catholic priest abuse scandal. And I really have no way to gauge that as those who have that visceral experience keep away.
So I'm having some real dissonance with knowing that we are in a Post-Christian culture and at the same time experiencing tremendous ministry opportunity in a traditional setting. And I'm loving it. :)