What struck me was the Cabinet Report. This contains, among other things, resolutions for closing churches and moving them from full-time to part-time (or vice versa), realigning charges, etc. Every year, we close a certain number of churches. That's sad, but every human institution has a life cycle, and there comes a time. Some churches have just reached the end of their ability to carry out their mission. No one need assume any negative reasoning.
But I was struck by some of the churches that were moving from full-time to part-time; meaning, they could no longer afford a full-time pastor, especially one with benefits. A couple of these were proud, high-steeple churches whose pastorates were seen as possible stepping stones to the episcopacy. They have huge, beautiful buildings, long-time associations with universities and whatnot. They were the place to be for all the good and great, once upon a time. Yet they can no longer afford their own pastor, but are either to have a part-time pastor or be joined into a two-point charge. How are the mighty fallen.
This is not merely wear and tear. This isn't just normal aging. We have been eating our seed corn, and it is finally used up. There isn't going to be a harvest any more in these places. This is the result of forty years' worth of institutional neglect of our teaching and the cure of souls: not just in these parishes, but all over.
As The UMC begins to fragment, each major fraction assumes that if they could just get free of the others, they could build that newer, brighter future that has eluded us for two generations. The traditionalists warn the progressives that every progressive denomination that has gone where they want to go has declined, badly. But we trads need to take the warning to heart, ourselves. Our churches are declining just as badly in most places. Just escaping the cage match we are currently locked into doesn't automatically mean we finally have a healthy church.
There is an awful lot of work to do.