We can make Church relevant when it isn’t
Making the case for not just spirituality, but religion, too
Recently, I accepted as part of my portfolio of duties for a non-profit residential community the role of director of spiritual life—responsible for a chapel, its chaplain, its music director, and visiting chaplains and preachers. I maintain a connection to all the places of worship near us, of all denominations and religions.
I also meet with hospice chaplains to ensure that the spiritual needs of my residents are met when they are in the process of dying.
Being responsible for meeting the diverse spiritual needs of hundreds of people, making sure to understand the many types of beliefs and traditions I have to help maintain and enrich, it was bound to happen that I would end up asking myself, “Where are you?”
Where am I on my spiritual journey?
It’s not that I’ve lost sense of my relationship with God. That has and will always be there.
I was raised fairly religious—baptised at a Marianist mission church in Kalihi, confirmed in the Catholic tradition at the Honolulu Cathedral. I attended a Jesuit university and was inspired by social justice-centered Jesuit preachers—like Rev. T. Jerome Overbeck, S.J.; Rev. David Godleski, S.J. (you need to read this story about Father Dave and the comedian); Rev. Donal Godfrey, S.J.; and Rev. James Martin, S.J.
Yes, I have issues with organized religion.
But doesn’t everyone?
No one person can actually agree with every piece of Church doctrine—unless you’re one of those self-started television preachers who can make it all up as they go along. Even Francis, the bishop of Rome, has struggled with making changes in the largest Christian denomination in the world.
I do have friends, some agnostic, some atheist, who ask me, why be in it, why be a part of an institution that continues to be the origin of some of the biggest civil liberties questions of our time? They fight against women’s choice, they fight against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, they support gay conversion therapy, among other things.
My childhood pastor, Rev. Nathan Mamo, once said in a sermon that stuck with me that we have to confront injustice where it needs confronting. And that should hold true from inside Church, too. Interestingly, Father Nathan practiced what he preached. He stood up to his bishop, ended up exiled away from his diocese beginning in 1998, but continued to speak out for what he believed was right.
The great thing is that you and I, those at the grassroots of Church, can always do our part in making change happen when we see the need. That’s what’s going on in the Catholic and many traditional Protestant churches as their members—including priests and nuns—fight for more inclusiveness for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in their communities, or for more women in leadership roles, or to be better stewards with their resources so that they’re used for people in need.
I still believe there is a place, not just for spirituality, but Church, too. They can be powerful catalysts for change outside of the Church. Black Civil Rights in America, after all, was won when preachers spoke truth to power and the walls of institutional prejudice began to crumble.
Imagine what churches can do if they rose up with the same amount of fire and fury—God-inspired, of course—for social justice causes, for improved race relations, for global warming and its humanitarian implications, among other issues.
So as long as there are people in the Church who question the Church, and help the Church better understand its own Gospel in relation to the changing present, there remains a place for Church in the greater community and the world.