|AFTER the horrific
events of September 11, many Australians did something they had not bothered to do in
They went to church. On any given Sunday you'll find 10 per cent of Australians at church,
but anecdotal evidence suggests this figure leapt after the terrorist attacks in the US.
In 2001, with churches in decline and attendances dwindling, this renewed interest means
the churches are in a strong position to win back their flocks and attract new blood -
particularly young blood. But will they?
"To explain these events, people have reached inside themselves for what I would
call the spirit, the spiritual dimension,' says Mal Garvin, the national director of
Fusion, a Christian organisation that works with mainstream churches on youth and social
"People are bewildered as they try to contemplate the mindset that would drive a
plane into towers. Is it a measure of commitment, or insanity?
"Now here's the moment - will the mainline churches be able to go from there, to go
with it?" Garvin asks.
"The churches in the past have pointed their fingers at gambling, loveless sex and
substance abuse - grog or whatever. But I'd argue those are simply symptoms,
tranquillisers for people who are escaping a purposeless existence. The core
questions for every human being are spiritual - they are to do with meaning and community.
The culture it- self is wrestling with these things."
But amid this spiritual crisis, the established churches are grappling with major changes.
With their ancient traditions, their reduced status, their unwieldy- hierarchies and
diverging directions, the churches face as many questions as their congregations.
For most people under 30, church is the last place they would go on a Sunday -or at
any time in their lives, bar perhaps weddings and funerals.
Cafes, not cathedrals, are where people choose to meet in 2001. Passively sitting in pews
and being told about spirituality by a robed authority figure just doesn't rate.
Churches know the key to the future is young recruits - to the cloth, and to the
Keiran Meade, 31, Andrew Keswick, 20, and Trevor Jameson, 24, are articulate, passionate
young men. As priests in training, they are offering their futures to demonstrate
what they see as the new face of the Catholic Church.
"I think that if you're a relatively young person today and you say you're going to
put your life on the line for a religious belief, regardless of what it is, it's going to
generate a lot of discussion among your peers or younger people," Jameson says.
Keswick agrees there is strong spiritual interest - and young people, naturally, have many
"More often than not people would say, 'Yeah, I'm interested in spirituality', or,
'Yeah, I'm interested in God', or, 'I've got a bone to pick with the church'. But there's
always an inkling," Keswick says.
Yet Jameson acknowledges that a diminishing number of people are content to be told what
"We live in an age, especially here in Australia, when the level of education is
fairly high and people have been given a gift, in a way, to work things out for
themselves," Jameson says.
"As younger priests ... we have to challenge people who are able to think
independently as to the value of what the church is teaching."
"The world of the computer, of the Internet, on the other hand, is very, very
complex, but it does not encourage passivity. You cannot be inactive."
To meet the needs of today's increasingly resourced, critical and individualistic youth,
churches must "take very seriously the world view that people have".
"People are going to go on their own spiritual journey
anyway, and if we try to confine it to a very tight, particular pattern, we are just going
to lose people. If we allow people to explore, people will find their own faith."
Wade, 31, is due for ordination in 2003 in the Anglican Church.
She believes one of the key ways the church can reclaim disenfranchised parishioners is by
forging new roles for women.
"In the Anglican Church, there is a big debate about whether the institutional church
has had its day," Wade says.
"I think it still has its quite distinctive uses, but we need to clarify what the
role of the institutional church is.
"I think the local church will come into its own again, that people who are feeling
lost - which is pretty understandable in today's world - actually have a place where they
can ask questions and reconnect to the community," she says.
"The question is whether anyone is going to listen to the church in the
next 50 years."
Christian Research Association senior researcher the Rev. Dr Philip Hughes, points to a
massive cultural shift which occurred in the 1960s.
"Before the '60s, most people saw the world primarily as a system,' Hughes
says. "Just as there were physical rules which dominated the idea of the physical
universe ... so the 10 commandments, for a lot of people, were the moral rules that
dominated society. Worship was primarily a reaffirmation that that system was there, and
that God was in control."
But during the '60s, society and culture changed and many people began to see the world as
a maze of competing powers, rather than a system, Hughes says.
The formal rules-based world view ceased to have much meaning.
"It just didn't connect, so a lot of those people drifted out (of the church). Most
of the older denominations are still dominated by that pre-'60s world view in their
worship, practice and theology," Hughes says.
THE '60s also saw the wide availability of the contraceptive pill, which changed the
nature of sexuality in the West. "Most of the churches have never adapted to that - that
sexuality for pleasure can be different from sexuality for procreation," he
Hughes points to the low church attendance figures for young people in de facto
"A whole group in our population don't feel they can abide by what most churches say
Stephen Said, 30, from the Assemblies or God Pentecostal tradition, believes the
institutional church needs to look in the mirror to survive.
"Probably the most pressing issue we would see, in terms of the church surviving the
next 20 or 30 years, is acknowledging that their world view is essentially 1950s American
family values," he says. "Sitting down with church leaders and trying to say
that the reason people are having a hard time with your church is not because of
the message of Jesus, it's the cultural expectations that come with it - that's
incredibly difficult to do."
To those trying to reconcile the traditional, institutional church with the spiritual
needs of the 21st century, there are pressing and daunting questions.
"What television has done is to picture a world that is chaotic," Hughes says.
"It has given us, through drama and news, a world of constant change and
"The world of the computer, of
the Internet, on the other hand, is very, very complex, but it does not encourage
passivity. You cannot be inactive."
To meet the needs of today's
increasingly resourced, critical and individualistic youth, churches must "take
very seriously the world view that people have".
"People are going to go on their own spiritual journey anyway, and if we try
to confine it to a very tight, particular pattern, we are just going to lose people. If we
allow people to explore, people will find their own faith."
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2001
THE COURIER MAIL - Page 12
COMMENT BY PAUL SHEEHAN ... 241201
I will start by commenting on Mal Garvins quote about
reaching inside self for answers .. Mal, I firmly believe that none of us have anything
inside us that can help us apart from .. Jesus the Christ after the born again experience
has taken place. Therefore, people who look inside themselves for help and don't look to
their creator/Jesus the Christ will always be lost and devastated continuously.
Lets face it Mal.. Australia is a pagan nation and always has been but it will be
more clearly seen to all as we move along in time. Things are hotting up all over the
world and Australia is surely entering its time to show her true colours, my belief is
that many a people are going to be very disappointed.
Jesus the Christ never once said in any part of the holy bible that He would save nations
but that He would take for Himself a peoples from every tribe tongue and nation .. even
a remnant.. amen ... Revelation 5:9,10.
Mal says figures just don't rate when it comes to going to an orderly local
church today. He says cafes are the go not sitting in pews. Since when did men and women
dictate to God when and how they shall be saved from hell fire eternal?.. as far as I am
concerned and my household, the best day of the week for us is when we go to the house of
the Lord each week to hear the living infallible, unchangeable, absolute word of
God/Jesus the Christ.. Psalm 122:1.
Michelle Wade a suppose up and coming "woman priest" says in order to
reclaim souls for her religious system women are to be given roles like the men. She says
the old way has had its day but I believe that that Michelle needs to get herself born
again as Jesus said to do before she can make even the most minor of comments on how the
churches should operate. If Michelle really knew God Almighty .. she would understand that
Gods word is .. absolute .. and it never changes for men, women or flaky religions that
change their view as often as they change their appetites for food.. Jeremiah 6:16,17.
There is a mention of the .. christian research association.. in the article
whose senior researcher is the.. Rev/Dr. Phil Hughes who says that there is a
culture shift going on and that churches, must .. take seriously the world view unless
people will find their own view and their own faith.. James 4:4.
Sorry, Rev/Dr Phil your too late.. about 100 years 2,000 years too late, they did it in
Jesus' time and their is nothing new under the sun Phil.. John 6:60-66.
The theme of the whole article would have to be .. reconnecting to the community ..
obviously becoming a useful beast of burden. My advice to the Anglican Church and the
Roman Catholic Church is simply close your doors, sell all your property and give the
money to the poor. Then repent of all your sins and ask Jesus to save you from eternal
hell fire.. Luke 24:47.
As for Stephen Said from the AOG .. his comment amounted to nothing but weak
gutted compromise and fear of man and exclusion. Mr Said, should have said ... the problem
for all is they love sin more than Jesus.. amen.