Faith Without Buildings

The story on religious participation in Canada could not be bleaker. According to the Global national news last night, only 18% of Canadians remain religiously active or committed. Furthermore many Canadians no longer see religion as beneficial to society. While tolerant, they feel discomfort about organized religion. The full story can be read here: https://globalnews.ca/news/8759564/canada-religion-society-perceptions/

In another report the Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s in Newfoundland is in receivership, placing many of its properties up for sale. They are deluged with court ordered compensation payments to victims of abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage. Parishioners are being told they should consider remortgaging their homes and buy their local church building, should they wish to continue worshiping there! This story can be read here: https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/opinion/commentary-a-time-of-reckoning-for-newfoundland-and-labradors-roman-catholic-churches-and-parishioners-100706474/#.Yl4AZdrIZsw.gmail

The reasons for the decline of religious participation in Canada are numerous. Youth are no longer instructed in the Faith at school or at home. The abuse scandals that rock the Catholic Church have resulted in much pain and shame and caused many of the flock to leave. The notion that Islam is a violent religion bent on world domination, has been sown by the media. Rigid pro-Trump views of the “religious right” have spilled over over into Canada causing much political division and negative views of religion. Pandemic authorities made things worse for believers by classifying religious ceremonies as “non-essential” services. Some faithful are still afraid to attend an indoor service and may never come back. The rise in the west of consumerism and neoliberalism with its cult of individualism means: I define what is wrong or right for me personally. Anti-authoritism and lack of respect for differences is rampant in social media.

Canadians see evangelical Christianity (e.g., Baptists, Mennonites, etc.), Islam and Roman Catholicism as the least beneficial to Canadian society. The younger the age group, the more strongly opposed they are to such institutions. While tolerance continues at present, is it just a matter of time until open persecution of members of these groups becomes socially acceptable? Sadly, it seems in the case of Muslims, such persecution has already begun in Canada on a regular basis.

So what are we religiously still active to make of this? Is the end of public religion as we know it, just a few short years away? When us old folks die off, will that be the final blow to organized religion? Will faith without buildings or people to fill them mean the end? I SAY FIRMLY NO! There are many positive happenings, please read on.

When we were in Mexico this past winter we attended a non-denominational evangelical church, because we were invited to by friends and the service was in English. As Catholics, it was great to experience the emphasis on the “word of God” and the great 35-40 min sermons that ensued by some great preachers. What was also unique and edifying was the fact that the service was held out-of-doors in a multi-purpose event facility rented to us on Sundays. It was a beautiful jungle setting and often there were gorgeous flowers for taking home that were left from a wedding held the previous day. This was a faith service without a building.

When in Winnipeg recently, we attended St Kateri Tekakwitha RC church which shares their building with a local Mennonite church community. In fact Lutherans had originally built the church but when their numbers declined, they sold the building and it became a multi-congregational facility.

Another positive development in my view is the proliferation of online religious services. In addition to regularly attending Mass, I watch EWTN daily Mass from Alabama, St. Michael’s Cathedral Masses from Toronto, Holy Cross Church Sunday Mass from Kemptville, ON and even the occasional service from St. Paul’s Presbyterian, my childhood church in Ottawa. I recently saw the Chrism Mass from the Pembroke Diocese without having to drive there. Wow! These have greatly enriched my lived religious experience. I imagine many of you have similar experience too. Hence accessibility to religious services is greatly enhanced now for all the committed, the curious and those seeking.

The last thing I wish to say on this subject (apart from sorry for the long post) is to ask the question “What are we being called to?” IMHO, to a new form of Church, a new form of religion. Whether it be attending small group services in peoples’ homes or outside, watching religion online, sharing a church building with other groups, going on a religious pilgrimage or spiritual retreat, private prayer and meditation at home, people today are still seeking healing and the Truth. Perhaps the need now is more than ever. Hence as children of God called to worship Him, the future is just as bright with or without the buildings.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Faith Without Buildings

  1. This past Easter Weekend we saw record numbers come out – at the 11:30 Mass we saw more people than we had in the past 3-4 years – all ages and there was active participation in the Mass with singing and responses. And I had two people approach me about how they might take a more active part in our liturgies! Alleluia! I am not quite ready to throw in the towel yet. I love the coming together of community – I missed that so much during COVID and zoom and online pariticpation did not do a lot for me. Perhaps there are new ways of coming together and bringing back those who left for whatever reason. It is my community that helps me to remain true to who I have been called to be. I need that. I don’t want to start a new religion, perhaps we can somehow work to change what is not working with it. It is not just the hierarchy that have to do it from the top down – we need to see how we can effect good and healthy change from the ground up. Eugene de Mazenod – a primary concern after the French Revolution – rebuild the Church – and he did, along with others. Maybe it’s our turn to pitch in and help. Just saying….

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  2. Well said amiga Eleanor! I agree whole heartily with it being our turn to pitch in and help. Thanks for your comment.

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  3. Thanks for this post, David. It is really thought-provoking. I believe that we are all pebbles in a tranquil sea. Around us are the ripples that become waves at the ocean. Perhaps as you say, what is important is “rebuilding Church” in the Mazenodian way. I would love to see a deeper synodal outcome surface, to bring tired, disaffected and disenchanted Catholics back into community… to learn about our common humanity, reveal our rich Catholic practices and perhaps even ultimately attain sainthood! Here’s a job opening! 🙂

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