Letter from DS Shaw “View from the Bridge”

Dear Pilgrims,
A January 28, 2009 Gallup Poll entitled State of the States: Importance of Religion reports that when asked “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” 65% of Americans reported that religion is an important part of their daily lives. This conclusion was based on interviews of more than 350,000 participants around the country. The poll also breaks down responses to the same question state by state. Here the information gets a little more interesting. The poll finds that “Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas to be the most religious states in the nation, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts are the least religious.” In fact six out of the ten least religious states are located in the soon to be New England Conference. (VT 42%, NH 46%, ME 48%, MA 48%, AK 51%, WA 52%, OR 53%, RI 53%, NV 54%, CT 55%). (www.gallup.com)
I am of the opinion that this Gallup Poll reveals some deeper questions such as: What is the future of “religion” in New England? What is “religion” in New England? Why isn’t religion an important part of peoples daily lives in New England? While some like to believe that New England may be on the verge of a “religious revival” I am not sure the evidence would bear that out, but what if we were in the verge of a “spiritual revival?” That’s the question I would like to see answered, “Is spirituality an important part of your daily life?” I believe that the answer to that question would be vastly different.
One of the things I have learned over the years working alongside people in recovery, as well as in my own spiritual journey, is that addicts who identify themselves as Christians are often resistant to embrace step three in the twelve step program: “Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understand God.” Some have speculated that this is because addicts who have been raised in the church note that they have already tried the “God stuff” and it hasn’t worked, thus creating a resistance to trust and an unwillingness to “do it again.” Others have noted that addicts who are also “religious” may be unwilling to let go of a childlike understanding/relationship with God; an unforgiving, punishing, judgmental, unlistening, and failed miracle God. In any case part of recovery is “reframing” a relationship with God that is personal, maturing and spiritually connected. It is the willingness to turn “will and lives” over to God, and letting something new develop that may have nothing to do with the past and may even make the future a little scary.
In my church travels I often hear churches discuss the need for new members along with the appropriate reasons why. The conversation is often about the needs of the church and not the spiritual needs of those who might be coming into fellowship. It is much like asking; Where is religion in your life, verses where is the working of the Holy Spirit in your life? When churches have assumed values of what it means to be “religious” or what it means to have “religion” in your daily life and try to impose it on others the result will often be a dying church. When a church understands the centrality of the Holy Spirit working, reshaping, reforming, recreating the body, exercising a mature and bold faith, the result is often that the church will grow. The “concept” is the same, at AA or UMC; it is about allowing God to direct us, and not us correcting God.
New England might not be the hotbed for a religious revival, but I am convinced that there is a spiritual awakening among us, the question for our churches is: Will we have the ability to adapt and allow the working of the Holy Spirit guide us deeper into something we don’t quite understand or will we try and assimilate the Spirit into the institution and extinguish the flame. It’s a personal question that requires turning oneself and the church over to God.