My koumbaro (fancy Greek term for “ecclesiastical relative,” in this case, my daughter’s godfather) is visiting with us here for a few days, and this afternoon, he and I visited my favorite local coffeehouse to get a little caffeination and chat in. While we were there, we talked a bit with the proprietor, as well as with a fellow who stopped in and was distributing posters and pamphlets for a new church in Emmaus.
We learned that apparently there has been a decent amount of new religious exploration going on in Emmaus, often in terms of “alternatives” to the more established religious types in the area. This actually tells me a couple of useful things:
- People are becoming more open to religious experiences that might otherwise be new to them.
- Some of the church-growth-marketing types have probably researched, identified and targeted Emmaus as a potential growth area.
No doubt most of the targeting folks are probably looking into introducing Emmaus religion to the mega-church and/or “postmodern”/”emerging” types of religious practice. Orthodoxy has a major leg up on these types, mainly because it’s built for staying power. While the mega-churches and their spin-off ilk are often intriguing and exciting to people, they have no real roots to, well, root people. They are inherently non-local sorts of phenomena, connecting people mainly to an ephemeral sort of spirituality that interests but fails to transform. Folks may “have an experience,” but even the statistics produced by these kinds of groups show that those experiences usually are not enough to keep people in the congregation for more than a few years. Indeed, one demographic report that made its rounds in the Evangelical mega-church world admitted that the people most likely to be discontented in their churches were those who were regarded by those churches’ standards as the most spiritually advanced and mature in the congregation.
The upshot to all this is that there is likely a high potential in Emmaus for introducing people to Orthodoxy. On the one hand, it is something probably “new” and “exotic” to them—this is by no means a good reason to choose or stay in a faith (because the newness wears off), but it may well be enough to get people to give the introduction a chance. On the other hand, we offer something that these other groups by their very nature lack—an ancient tradition, deeply informed and comprehending of human nature, which is capable of powerful and lasting transformation. Orthodoxy is also the very stuff of true civilization, because it is built for staying power. Orthodoxy builds and transforms people and whole cultures, not target markets.
In our chat at the coffeehouse, I mentioned that while Emmaus was celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, the Church of Antioch (of which St. Paul’s is a part) is celebrating its 1,975th anniversary this year. The response from one of the baristas: “You win.”
We’re looking forward to raising the parish’s level of engagement here in Emmaus. A number of ideas are in the process of being implemented. The first will be something simple: hosting a booth at the 250th anniversary celebration of our borough. Another possibility might be a “theology on tap” series of events, where local religious leaders publicly talk about the differences between their faiths.
Whatever we end up doing, our hope is that we’re soon going to inaugurate a new period of real outreach and witness in our home. This is Christianity like most of these folks have never seen before, something they’ve never heard of, and it’s just down the street.
Like the saying goes: We’re not Jewish, but we are Orthodox. We’re not Roman, but we are Catholic. We’re not Protestant, but the Bible came from us. We’re not Denominational [or Non-Denominational, I might add], we’re Pre-Denominational.