With a world spinning on rapid advances in technology, and within arm’s length of the turn of the century, are the spiritual needs of a fast-paced society changing?
How do parish leaders keep up while remaining true to the diverse doctrines of Christianity? With faith, hope and the attitude that changing times are not only inevitable but challenging.
“I don’t think there are any Christian denominations that are not affected by change in society,” said Father Brian Primeau O.M.I., the new priest at St. Mary’s Church here.
“It’s a challenge [for the church] because if we are going to talk about upholding the family, we have to put resources to doing that.”
“To say that the Roman Catholic church is a monolith that rises above change is not true," he reasoned. "It has to be re-formulated so the Gospel message can be heard and understood and applied to the 1990s or the year 2000.”
In the eyes of Pastor Brian Keffer, newcomer at Zion Lutheran Church here, the challenge also lies in keeping the church open to the needs of its people without being presumptuous or judgmental.
Even though he has seen several years of world change through the eyes of a clergyman, the faith community experience remains basically the same as always.
“The congregation comes for many things—for companionship, comfort, encouragement, affirmation, and love,” he said.
And it’s not in the best interests of his congregation, or himself, to presume to know where everybody is at in their spiritual journey, he added.
“If I had to know that, I would go insane," he smiled. "What goes on in the human heart is a mystery. I would have to be divinely gifted to know that.”
Despite the inevitability of change, Pastor Chet Cooper of Victory Baptist Church in Crozier believes the only way to survive it is to stick to the written Word—a value he places heavy emphasis on as a guiding light through both technological and human evolvement.
“There are some things we hold to that other denominations would say make us extremists but we aren’t,” he noted.
“We hold to the inspiration and inherence of scripture and we believe it to be the authoritative word of God. It is the only basis for what we believe,” he added.
Pastor Cooper did agree it was of vital importance to his church to encourage family unity, and admitted that was one of the areas where society was failing.
“I am keen on family, and the tragedy of today’s society is that the family is trying to be redefined,” he said.
“It is best if a child can go through life in a secure family with a mom and dad although I do acknowledge that there are single-parent families out there,” he added.
The state of the family also is of concern to Geraldine Bjornson, who ministers at Knox United Church here with her husband, Patrick Playfair, and is acting president of the Fort Frances Ministerial Association.
Although she didn’t necessarily share the same views on family as her peers, her concern for the child in society was paramount as well.
“How do you define family? In the context of the religious community, we are all family," she said. ”Jesus and the Bible never talked about the nuclear family.
“It was all of you,” she recounted, gesturing.
“We have to have an openness to understanding that the child and youth are not the next generation of the church but are the church now,” she stressed.
“We have to try to understand and meet the spiritual needs of children and youth because I fear there is a lot of hopeless youth in this community.”
Bjornson attributed this hopelessness to no one cause but did suggest it stemmed from a combination of not enough spiritual grounding at home together with rushed lifestyles and the societal theology that prosperity fixes everything.
“I’ve had people tell me they eat in the car every night." she noted. ”There’s not a lot of time for [spiritual] reflection for those families, and kids and activities related to the church are not on the priority list.
“Often religion becomes important in crises, not in everyday life," she added. "Religion is much bigger than that.”
Meanwhile, with the year 2000 fast approaching, Father Brian predicted there will be some renewed thinking on what is important in the global scheme of things.
“This cannot just be seen as a Christian event but as a human event as well. It is the first time in a millennium that we think as a planet,” he reasoned.
“A thousand years ago, we thought of the world but were bound by lack of knowledge of [its size],” he added.
And what of all the hype about the turn of the century spelling disaster for mankind? It’s overblown, suggested Pastor Keffer, who advocates living a good life today instead of worrying about what will happen tomorrow.
“I celebrate life. I have tons and tons of faith in God’s ability to take care of this world,” he stressed.
“I know there are people out there who think some big apocalyptic thing is going to happen. I’m not one of them,” he added.
“There is a hype out there in the world," agreed Bjornson. ”Some of it is coming from religious groups that name themselves as Christians . . . as one writer put it, ‘Smacking their lips as they wait for the end times.’
“I don’t quite understand it but I don’t think it’s Christian,” she added.
Father Brian also talked about the recent deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, saying he felt both women shared admirable qualities. But he also suggested a sense of awe about the manner in which Mother Teresa welcomed material scarcity.
“You did not have to be a Catholic or a Christian to be touched by these women. They both were genuinely concerned about people but Mother Teresa lived it,” he reflected.
“Her radical poverty will always be a challenge to any of us in North America," he said. "She lived simply and walked the talk.”
“I don’t quite understand the whole dynamic over Princess Diana but she did have a humanness to her life that is seldom seen in royalty,” admitted Bjornson.
“There was something real about her.”