The church service at St. Cyriak, just a minute’s walk from our apartment, is at 10 on Sunday mornings. I gather it has been for centuries. But 10 a.m. isn’t when it starts.
St. Cyriak is part of a multiple point pastoral charge, including churches in Laufen and St. Ilgen. There used to be a pastor for each of the churches, but declining attendance and revenue means they have to share.
The service at St. John’s in Laufen is at 9 a.m. and lasts almost an hour. To get from there to the church in Sulzburg is a conservative ten minutes.
You see the problem of course. The pastor can’t make it to church on time. It is a physical impossibility.
I suppose they could restructure the service in Laufen so that the pastor sneaks out before the end, but then there is no post-service contact with parishioners. That sort of thing is important.
Which means the service in Sulzburg never starts at the appointed hour. We discovered that the first time we visited. Arriving ten minutes early, we discovered only two people there. The organist filled the time, and people started trickling in shortly after ten.
The simple solution would be to change the service time. I asked my neighbours why that wasn’t done. They appeared a little shocked I would suggest it. (They also do not attend St. Cyriak, so have no real interest one way or another.) The 10 a.m. start time is tradition, it has been that way for centuries. Why would anyone want to move it?
I wonder if such an attitude contributes to declining attendance, here and in other churches around the world. I believe tradition is important, but not to the point where you become disconnected with reality. Churches though, for the most part, live by the mantra: “we’ve never done it that way before.”
Which has me thinking back more than 40 years to a time when I was kicked out of a church. Not officially, you understand, but the church leadership made it very clear that the entire youth group, or at least those leading it, weren’t welcome. We had been doing thing s differently, doing street evangelism and outreach, and the church establishment wasn’t sure how to handle that.
It’s a long story, and I won’t go into the details. I did note about ten years afterward that of the 30 people in that youth group, six became pastors, and several others wound up in full-time Christian service. But only one in that church’s denomination. Short-sighted leadership drove their next generation of leaders elsewhere.
What a waste, all because they had never done things that way before.
The church has a reputation for being a little out of touch with reality. Sometimes that is underserved – it is God’s reality that seems strange to those who don’t know Him.
There are times though when not making logical changes just makes us look silly. Like holding a church service at a time when the pastor can’t be there. I don’t expect to see any change though – they’ve always done it that way.