A farewell column and a plea to Christian congregations: Look outward (COMMENTARY)

(RNS) My last two columns said what I needed to say: Christian congregations have inflicted pain on themselves. And better days lie ahead for those Christians who can think beyond inherited institutions.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich

(RNS) This is my farewell column for Religion News Service. After nearly 20 years of writing commentary for this extraordinary news service, it is time for a change.

First, the practical. Second, the meat.

As a writer, I am shifting my focus to my new Fresh Day online magazine and to two book projects. One book is an on-the-road theology growing out of a monthlong pilgrimage I took across the U.S. in February and March. The second is a Bible study guide for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, using the Revised Common Lectionary. (Watch Fresh Day magazine for publication dates.)

I continue to write my daily On a Journey meditations and weekly essay, as well as a weekly Church Wellness Report and a thrice-weekly blog. These writings are available at www.morningwalkmedia.com.

Now, the meat.

Before anything else, a shoutout to RNS — a great news service, providing great coverage of a complex and changing slice of the human enterprise.

My last two regular columns said what I needed to say, namely, that Christian congregations have inflicted pain on themselves. And my sense that better days lie ahead for those Christians who can think beyond inherited institutions and, as I say to consulting clients, “go to the edge of your church property and look outward.”

When this column began, my charge was to write commentary on faith and ethics. That has meant looking at politics, the economy, cultural shifts, and the complex contexts that greet Christianity in North America.

In my opinion, those issues are more important than ever. The Christian right has worked hard to identify a single “Christian” perspective on life, centered in a moral agenda having to do with sex. There is far more to be said. Injustice and gross inequalities matter more to the nation and to God. Jesus, after all, taught mostly about wealth and power, with hardly a word about sex.

I think mainline Christians and progressive Christians have been looking inward at the congregational level. We now need to look outward. We have been naive about the great damage being done to our society in the name of religion. We need to push back against political forces that threaten democracy and human progress.

I feel optimistic about the future of Christianity in America. After all, God wants the Christian enterprise to succeed, and so it will. I am optimistic that many congregations will turn outward and forward and work resolutely for a fresh day.

I see a new generation of younger clergy who haven’t spent their careers dealing with 50 years of decline. They are fresh, they have good ideas, and I think congregations need to hire them and listen to them.

Veterans of the Great Decline need to let go of control and turn their attention to healing and freshening. We suffered mightily during five decades of decline. We have never known the sunny days of the 1950s. We just knew we were getting hammered for not replicating them.

As congregations and denominations move on without our being in charge, I think we need to start fresh conversations. Name our wounds, admit our mistakes, rediscover our hopes, and not allow our unresolved issues and control needs to continue dragging down the enterprise.

Hence, my personal focus on Fresh Day. Time to discover fresh ideas, fresh words, fresh alliances, and a fresh faith.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)

YS/AMB END EHRICH