Friday, February 04, 2005

Evolution: Worship for a Changing World

This is the website of my neighborhood church, the Christ United Methodist Church in Southern Village in Chapel Hill, NC. Look around:

They have a blog:

...and a Newsletter:

and this is the page they call "Evolution":

(with this spiffy logo):

Notice the chemicals (E) turning into cells (V), colonies (O), tissues (L), organs (U), organisms (T) and solid objects (ION!!!).

The "Evolution" is apparently a series of Tuesday night meetings for singles to "find God and each other". Their schedule of events (everyone in the neighborhood got one in the mailbox today) for February:
Feb. 1 - "Tired of being alone"
Feb. 8 - "What the World needs now"
Feb. 15 - "Great sex"
Feb. 22 - "After the honeymoon".

Sounds kinky, doesn't it? Hey, if I was single I would go, as godless heathen as I am, to get myself some pretty Christian babe. This way, unless there is a wedding or a funeral I have to go to, it is highly unlikely I will ever set foot in the building.

The first page of their website states:

Welcome to the online ministry of Christ United Methodist Church.

We are building a committed and supportive community of followers of Jesus Christ. We seek to worship God, to nurture God's people, and to care for and serve each in ways that are both multi-cultural and multi-generational. We welcome those who are encountering God for the first time.

Thanks for visiting our site. Please visit us in person! We offer three unique worship services on Sunday at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 a.m. The 8:30 service is contemporary informal, with praise music and Holy Communion. The 9:45 and 11:00 services offer a more traditional style of worship.

Tuesdays at Christ Church, 7:00 p.m., Evolution: Worship for a Changing World. Worship is not about a style of music, but a focus on praising God. Evolution is a worship experience that employees Christian rock music, lively use of media and the arts, visual presentations, drama. Engaging teaching and time for contemplation is an important part of this service. Communion is served periodically and to celebrate holy days.

From the "About Us" page:

We respect persons of all religious faiths and we
defend religious freedom for all persons.
...immediatelly followed by this quote:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. This mission is our grace-filled response to the Reign of God in the world announced by
So, this is a Church that is trying to hang on and survive in this superliberal town by presenting itself as "modern" - hey, Rock'n'Roll is so 21st century! Apparently, most of the members are younger, thus Christians more in a "cultural" sense - observing holidays, self-identifying as Christians if asked, yet more or less secular in their real outlook, especially at work, pippetting samples at the Lineberger Cancer Center at UNC, or designing software in RTP.

Although it appears that the word "evolution" is used in a sense of "personal maturation", it is interesting that they have chosen to use this "no-no" word so prominently. They have a good PR department, that's for sure. This one word is sufficient to tell everyone that the church is "moderate, moderate, moderate"! Yet, looking around the site, it seems obvious how conflicted they are about how much Jesus to serve. They have separate and different services for their traditional and for their modern members, for Christ's sake! They are almost begging young people to show up by downplaying the religion and stressing music, fun and sex (OK, "dating").

Why are they doing this? What are they afraid of? On one hand, we are frightened of the Christification of society during the past four years. On the other hand, churches are terrified of the secularization of society, admittedly a historically much more long-term process. Are they just paranoid or do they know (or feel) something we do not?

It appears that churches respond to the real and perceived threat of modernity in one of two ways. Some churches become cultish, closing off the outside world, trying to indoctrinate the children before the outside world gets to them. They behave like the elders in the movie "The Village" ( They are seeing the Bush Residency and the GOP powergrab as their, perhaps last, opportunity to somewhat expand their niche and drag some more people into their lairs, before their orthodoxy and their isolation makes them completely irrelevant in modern society.

On the other hand, some churches keep watering down and hiding their religion until almost nothing remains but the bare-bones of ceremony. They are hoping to survive by evolving but do not really know what to evolve into, as they feel they are going to be irrelevant in a completely secular society. They also feel the pain of being viciously attacked by their fundamentalist brethren for betraying the one-and-only true religion at the same time they are being ignored by the society at large. They appear rudderless and goal-less. My advice to them: get political! Just like the cultish churches have openly adopted the political Right, the moderate churches should embrace the goals of the political Left. That would give them a sense of purpose, at the same time giving them re-newed relevance in the society. And then, they can feel good about themselves for doing good once again.


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