Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday go to meeting (or not)

One of my family churches, Salem, torn down during the 1970s.

For no particular reason, other than the fact it's Sunday, I got to wondering about the percentage of Chariton residents who go to church --- idle curiosity more than anything else. Starting with my neighborhood.

There are six houses in my block, three on each side of the street. I live on the "old" side. Average the approximate ages of the five of us who live closer to the sunrise and you get 79 years (I'm the youngest by a comfortable margin). We all go to church. Average the approximate ages of the nine who live on the "young" side of the street, closer to sunset, and you get 34. So far as I know, none on that side attend church regularly.

This is in no way intended as criticism of the other side of the street. I'm not a big fan of the institutional church myself. I just find the age contrast interesting.

God knows, there is no shortage of congregations in Chariton --- more than 20 if I'm figuring right (and I may have forgotten one or two).

Here's the list I came up with: Christian Union, Cornerstone, Grace Baptist, First Baptist, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Assembly of God, Roman Catholic, Christian (Disciples of Christ), Episcopal, Bible Holiness, two Churches of Christ, Nazarene, one English-speaking Pentecostal, three Slavic Pentecostal (I think there still are three), ELCA Lutheran, Missouri Synod Lutheran and one I've forgotten the name of and really have no idea what goes on inside its walls.  The Jehovah's Witnesses no longer have a building here and there's another tiny church in the southeast part of town that may or may not be inactive. Some of these congregations are tiny and all struggle to pay the bills, but that's still a heck of a bunch of church.

So there's no shortage of pew space; apparently just an absence of the inclination to fill it. My guess is that Cornerstone is the fastest growing primarily because of skillful marketing and solid programming that appeals to younger people. If you have social aspirations and a middle-of-the-road theological approach, First Methodist is probably where you'd want to be. If you're LGBT, like me, you'd find an unreserved denominational welcome only at St. Andrew's Episcopal or First Lutheran (ELCA).

Not that everyone wouldn't be made to feel welcome at any of these churches and I'd enjoy visiting more --- but church tourism is a limited option when you really want to help fill a pew in your own church on Sunday mornings.

My guess would be that fewer than half of those of us who live here actually go to church and that a majority of us who do so are older. Why? Goodness only knows.

Some have been made to feel unwelcome, others haven't been told that they would be welcome or have been welcomed indifferently when they did darken a church door.  Congregations could work harder on both of those fronts. Television and now the Internet have created new opportunities for community (without leaving home), meeting in a somewhat artifical way needs that churches once met. And no doubt there are other factors.

But it all comes down to the fact that the faults behind declining church attendance rest not with folks who don't go to church but with those of us who do.


It's been a rough week in Iowa, and the news reports this morning aren't encouraging.

Approximately 2,000, including hundreds of  law enforcement officers from many parts of the country,  gathered in the high school gymnasium at Sigourney yesterday for the funeral of Keokuk County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Stein, shot to death by a deranged man last week. Thousands more lined roads and streets as the funeral procession made its way through southeast Iowa's rolling early-spring landscape to the rural Garrett Cemetery, along Highway 92 north of Delta and midway between Sigourney and Rose Hill, where he was buried beside his mother.

Stein seems to truly have been one of the good guys, dedicated throughout his life to serving his community and his family. The farewell was intensely moving, but I got to wondering if he had been adequately thanked while still alive. Most likely we should pay closer attention to our own law enforcement officers, firefighters and rescue personnel right now so that they know daily how much they are appreciated; just say "thanks" now and then.


Over in west central Iowa, an overnight tornado heavily damaged the Monona County town of Mapleton, southeast of Sioux City.  It's not clear yet how extensive the damage was or if lives were lost.

But it's now officially tornado season in Iowa and yesterday was one of those sunny-hazy too-hot, too-humid for this time of year days that somehow seemed ominous --- and we're in for another of those today. It goes with the territory if you live out here on the prairie. And we'll all probably be watching the skies a little more carefully now.


And in Des Moines, police continue to investigate two senseless deaths --- the inexplicable shooting of a young real estate agent, Ashley Okland, 27, stationed Friday afternoon at a model town house in West Des Moines; and the early Saturday stabbing in Des Moines of a handicapped father of five, Patrick Wilson, 41, by 19-year-old Oscar Ibarra, apparently drunk, who was breaking windows out of a car parked near Wilson's home.

Lord have mery.

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