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Here's one reason that I am thankful this Thanksgiving:
What I found while teaching a Called & Gifted workshop in Brooklyn last week is absolutely unique. I’ve worked in hundreds of Catholic parishes in 100 dioceses on 5 continents and I have NEVER met Catholics who is doing what Most Precious Blood parish is attempting. (There is no parish website yet. They've been busy building other things.)
Most Precious Blood parish is located at the tip of Brooklyn, next to Coney Island, in an area that has been majority Italian for generations. Over the past 10 years, the Italians have been moving by the thousands and their place has been taken largely by Chinese and Russian immigrants who are not Catholic. Many have no Christian background at all. Like most parishes in the area, Most Precious Blood’s membership had dropped nearly 80% from the its height in the 60's and the majority who attend are elderly.
Fr. Maduri, who grew up Catholic in the parish next-door, became pastor just over a year ago and responded in a remarkable way. He sized up the situation quickly: either the human community had to be rebuilt or the parish would close. Since the traditional Catholic population was leaving the area, he would focus on making disciples of the unchurched and apostles of the churched.
When the parish school closed, he rented the building out and used the income to renovate the old convent into a faith formation center. He brought in two enthusiastic young evangelists, newly married Andy - with his wife, Megan - and a exuberant young woman named Kree. They work with a Catholic group called Dirty Vagabonds, which specializes in the personal evangelization of urban youth. These recent graduates of the Franciscan University of Steubenville sport lots of conversation-starting tattoos, live very simply in the faith formation building, and spend their afternoons going out and meeting the kids in the neighborhood and the projects nearby. They have resurrected the parish youth group and renovated the rectory basement into an "Underground" gathering space. After only 4 months, attendance is going up steadily – with non-Catholic black and Chinese kids.
Fr. Maduri has also begun an outreach to local Hispanics. He brought in Nancy, a quietly vibrant and efficient woman, whom he had worked with in another parish, to run adult faith formation. He is forming a critical core of the parshioners, sending them to conferences, bringing in speakers to give retreats, putting on Life in the Spirit seminars, and bringing us in to teach his parishioners about gifts discernment.
But Fr. Maduri has even bigger plans. Next year, he will be collaborating with a Catholic Chinese woman to begin reaching out to the huge number of non-Christian Chinese immigrants in the area. When I realized that I was in the midst of a group of life-long Italian Catholics who were planning to learn Chinese (!) in order to evangelize their new neighbors who have no Christian background, I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto!”
How rare is this? As the late Avery Cardinal Dulles noted:
“Asked whether spreading the faith was a high priority of their parishes, 75 percent of conservative Protestant congregations and 57 percent of African American congregations responded affirmatively, whereas only 6 percent of Catholic parishes did the same. Asked whether they sponsored local evangelistic activities, 39 percent of conservative Protestant congregations and 16 percent of African American congregations responded positively as compared with only 3 percent of Catholic parishes.”
No wonder the beleagured Diocese of Brooklyn is watching and supporting Fr. Maduri's efforts. All Archbishop Dolan has to do to find a remarkable example of new "vigor" in his backyard is hop the subway to Brooklyn.
Most Precious Blood parish reminded me of the amazing impact that the Parisian parish of St. Sulpice, and its pastor, Jean Jacques Olier, had on the French Catholic revival of the 17th century. How tragic that 21st century Catholics have only heard of Saint Sulpice via the Da Vinci Code! When it comes to the evangelical and missionary traditions of the Catholic Church, we are anything but "deep in history" or we would know that evangelizing mega-churches were not invented by American evangelicals! Here's the description of the parish from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia:
"In August, 1641, M. Olier took charge of St-Sulpice. His aims were to reform the parish, establish a seminary, and Christianize the Sorbonne, then very worldly, through the piety and holiness of the seminarians who should attend its courses. The parish embraced the whole Faubourg-St-Germain, with a population as numerous and varied as a large city. It was commonly reputed the largest and most vicious parish, not only in the French capital, but in all Christendom. The enormity of the evils had killed all hope of reformation.
Father Olier organized his priests in community life. Those who found the life too strict separated from the work. The parish was divided into eight districts, each under the charge of a head priest and associates, whose duty it was to know individually all the souls under their care, with their spiritual and corporal needs, especially the poor, the uninstructed, the vicious, and those bound in irregular unions. Thirteen catechetical centres were established, for the instruction not only of children but of many adults who were almost equally ignorant of religion. Special instructions were provided for every class of persons, for the beggars, the poor, domestic servants, lackeys, midwives, workingmen, the aged etc. Instructions and debates on Catholic doctrine were organized for the benefit of Calvinists, hundreds of whom were converted.
A vigorous campaign was waged against immoral and heretical literature and obscene pictures; leaflets, holy pictures, and prayer books were distributed to those who could not or would not come to church, and a bookstore was opened at the church to supply good literature.
The poor were cared for according to methods of relief inspired by the practical genius of St. Vincent de Paul. During the five or six years of the Fronde, the terrible civil war that reduced Paris to widespread misery, and often to the verge of famine, M. Olier supported hundreds of families and provided many with clothing and shelter. None were refused. His rules of relief, adapted in other parishes, became the accepted methods and are still followed at St-Sulpice. Orphans, very numerous during the war, were placed in good parishes, and a house of refuge established for orphan girls. A home was open to shelter and reform the many women rescued from evil lives, and another for young girls exposed to danger. Many free schools for poor girls were founded by Father Olier, and he laboured also at the reform of the teachers in boys' schools, not however, with great success. He perceived that the reform of boys' schools could be accomplished only through a new congregation; which in fact came about after his death through Saint John Baptist de La Salle, a pupil of St-Sulpice, who founded his first school in Father Olier's parish. Free legal aid was provided for the poor. He gathered under one roof the sisters of many communities, who had been driven out of their convents in the country and fled to Paris for refuge, and cared for them till the close of the war. . . there was no misery among the people, spiritual or corporal, for which the pastor did not seek a remedy.
Update: I just had to add this wonderful little snippet that I just stumbled upon: the critical role of Bl. Agnes of Langeac, a Dominican nun, in Fr. Olier's life. This is such a classic experience for someone with a charism of intercessory prayer. We've heard hundreds of similar stories over the years through the Called & Gifted process. I'm not surprised one whit that the Holy Spirit called intercessors to pray for someone like Olier whom God was using in such a critical way. Anyway, here's the story:
In 1631, Jesus and Mary interiorly invited Agnes to intercede and pray for a priest she did not know. Three years later, in the monastery parlour she met Msgr. Jean-Jacques Olier and learned that he was the priest for whom she was offering her life of prayer and sacrifice. She died a year later, leaving to her sisters her particular vocation to pray for priests.
It is far too early to know whether or not Most Precious Blood is another Saint Sulpice. But the spirit of evangelical creativity, of going outto the living community present now - instead of lamenting the loss of an idealized mini-Christendom with a Brooklyn accent - is the same. Fr. Maduri is very aware that this is all experimental and that his efforts to transform the parish could fail. But he knows that, even if the parish isn't ultimately saved, the lives of some of the Catholics and non-Catholics involved will have been changed and that sort of fruit is eternal.
What a privilege to be allowed to witness such a work of the Holy Spirit in its earliest days! This Thanksgiving, shoot up a prayer for the apostles of Most Precious Blood parish, Brooklyn.
Good evening from the Coney Island end of Brooklyn, NY!
Really fascinating, one of a kind things are beginning to happen here at Precious Blood Parish. It has to be the most out of the box, missional parish I've ever been in and that's saying something after spending time hundreds of parishes in 100 dioceses. Since my internet access is very limited (I'm writing this crouched on the floor of the missionary's communal living room in the only spot where the wi-fe works), I won't attempt to give the details until I get home on Sunday.
Until then, all I can say is that what is shaping up in Brooklyn (very early stages) reminds me of the incredible impact of Saint Sulpice parish in the whole Catholic revival of the 17th century.
And I got to walk the Coney Island boardwalk and eat a chili dog at the original (1916) Nathan's Famous Hotdogs there. And experience a truly gorgeous Italian canolloni (sp?) and breakfast on Chinese pork rolls while Chinese soap operas play in the background. PS, if you are thinking of having the traditional Thanksgiving Octopus this year, I've discovered the freshest source west of Sicily. Just drop me a line.
And one more observation: the shortest humanoids on the planet are apparently Italian grandmothers in Brooklyn. I'm used to looming and have learned to behave in ways that minimizes the impact of my height (to the extent that many people don't believe I'm 6 feet tall until I actually stand right next to them - which is why I try not to do that) but here, around women who are literally 4 feet high in their shoes, I feel like Gulliver in Lilliput.
(Or like Sherry in Jakarta where the local term for Europeans is literally translated "white buffalo" and the true meaning is not nearly that polite.)
An unsolicited testimony about how lapsed Catholics do use the Called & Gifted workshop as a bridge back into the Church. I've heard stories like this a number of times before. The writer is raving about a recent workshop taught by two priests, Fr. Mike and Fr. Bryan.
"I interviewed a few of the folks that took your workshop at St. X. They raved about it and you. Always like to pass on a compliment.
One interesting story ... one of the attendees hadn't set foot in a church for 20 years. A friend recommended the workshop. As she started to tell her story the tears started to flow. Come to find out she also works on the campus as I do. She wants to meet the Newman gang. We are meeting for coffee next week. This is why I love participating in the Called and Gifted workshop."
I am about to break the unbreakable rule around here - no blog posts on liturgy. But I had to pass this one on because it is so clever, howlingly funny, and written by someone who is a true insider and because people on both sides of the debate will enjoy it - for very different reasons.
The Catholic Quote of the day - from Pope Benedict. One that we would do well to meditate upon, if we intend to do what God has instituted the Church to do.
Homily for the dedication of the Church of the Sagrada Familia:
We have dedicated this sacred space to God, who revealed and gave himself to us in Christ so as to be definitively God among men. The revealed Word, the humanity of Christ and his Church are the three supreme expressions of his self-manifestation and self-giving to mankind. As says Saint Paul in the second reading: “Let each man take care how he builds. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:10-11). The Lord Jesus is the stone which supports the weight of the world, which maintains the cohesion of the Church and brings together in ultimate unity all the achievements of mankind. In him, we have God’s word and presence and from him the Church receives her life, her teaching and her mission.
The Church of herself is nothing; she is called to be the sign and instrument of Christ, in pure docility to his authority and in total service to his mandate. The one Christ is the foundation of the one Church. He is the rock on which our faith is built. Building on this faith, let us strive together to show the world the face of God who is love and the only one who can respond to our yearning for fulfilment.
Exactly 150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. He only won 40% of the popular vote but he did win the electoral college.
Two years ago, we flew to Chicago to pick up a car donated to the Institute and drove home across a early winter landscape, miraculously encased in a small, moving bubble of sunshine and dry pavement. We stopped in Springfield and toured Lincoln's home. The last home he would ever live in outside the White House.
It was early December and Lincoln's home was decorated for Christmas in the exceedingly modest manner of middle class, 19th century mid-westerners. I was especially moved by the docent's description of Lincoln's last Christmas at home as he contemplated the staggering task ahead of him. Between his election and the date Lincoln left home for Washington DC, 7 states seceded. Four more were threatening to do so as he boarded the train to the capitol and an infant Confederate government had already been formed.
Here is the famous description of Lincoln's farewell to Springfield on February 11, 1861 - the eve of his 52nd birthday:
Sculptor Thomas Jones remembered the day Lincoln left town from this depot: "It was a dark, gloomy, misty morning, boding rain. The people assembled early to say their last good-bye to the man they loved so much. The railroad office was used as the reception room. Lincoln took a position where his friends and neighbors could file by him in a line. As they came up each one took his hand in silence. The tearful eye, the tremulous lips and inaudible words was a scene never to be forgotten. When the crowd has passed him, I stepped up to say good-bye. He gave me both his hands -- no words after that."
"The train thundered in that was to bear him away, and Lincoln mounted the rear platform of one of the cars. Just at that moment Mrs. Lincoln's carriage drove up -- it was raining. I proffered my umbrella and arm, and we approached Lincoln as near as we could for the crowd, and heard the last and best speech ever delivered in Springfield."
"My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell."
(Sherry's note: Today, a candidate elected at 51 would be regarded on the youngish end of the Presidential spectrum. But the average life expectancy of a boy child born in 1860 was only 43 years vs. 78 years for a boy born in 2010.)
In honor of this anniversary, which utterly changed the future of our country, take a few minutes to watch this beautiful tribute to Lincoln, featuring an amazing collection of contemporary photographs, most of which I have not seen elsewhere. To the tune of the haunting Ashokan Farewell.
Here's how I would have put my concerns if I had had the wit, talent, and holiness to do so:
"It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature, which, is you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long we are, in some degree, helping one other to one or more of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner-no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your sense. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy is almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitate - the glorifier and the glorified, Glory himself, is truly hidden."
When I hear Catholics talk hopefully (or gleefully!) of certain groups of Catholics - whose theological or liturgical leanings they fear and despise - leaving the Church, I know that we cannot have grasped what is at stake. We cannot have grasped the nature of the immortal beings we are blithely hoping will leave the fullness of the means of grace. We must recognize that it is a form of profound disobedience, a kind of blasphemy, for us to wish for, in the name of purity, what Christ himself prayed with great intensity would never happen: that he would lose one of those that his Father had given him.
When Pope Benedict has recognized the likely possibility of a smaller Catholic church, he was merely reading the signs of the times - recognizing that European Christendom, as it has existed for the past 1200 years, (as opposed to European Christianity) is well and truly dead. That the Church must look again, as she has in the past, not to institutions or societal favor but to the power of the Holy Spirit, the redeeming work of Christ, the truth of the apostolic faith, to the deep personal faith of her people, to the fruit of profound prayer and worship, to the intercession of the communion of saints. And to the charisms, vocations, saints, cultural creativity, and mighty deeds that arise out of such faith. The faith that gave birth to the structures and cultures of European Christianity in the first place.
But never, never that we should cease to pray for, long for, labor for, and call every man and women to encounter Christ in the midst of his Church. That we should accept, cooperate with - or most appallingly, rejoice in - events and changes that endanger the eternal glory of millions and millions of those redeemed by Christ's sacrifice and baptized in Christ's name is an abomination.
"It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.
I was doing the mini-rant thing via e-mail this afternoon. A friend who reported the response to her appeal to her pastoral council on the topic of evangelization.
"Last night was a lesson in how God asks us to be faithful, not expect to be successful!
We have a council operating out of a dated paradigm of how church should be...and those who are not here should be written off, or just get with the program. Some folks are our age, or younger, with this attitude! There is a sense that it is a lost cause, and we should just live with a smaller, purer church. I am not willing to give up so quickly."
To which I responded with considerable heat.
"And it isn't just the older ones - now twenty something Catholics talk that way. Just where this resistance to and loathing for the idea that we can't just depend upon those born Catholics to just show up anymore, that we might have to actually go to them - reach out to them - comes from, I don't know. Some of your pastoral council people have been reading the blogs, methinks!
How odd it is to realize that almost all Catholics I meet - on all sides of the spectrum - are not just practicing Pelagians but universalist to the core. Less than 1% of the many Catholics I've met all over the world have ever expressed worry about the eternal well-being and happiness of the those who leave. I don't hear people expresses concern about their salvation. I almost never hear Catholics spontaneously talk about Christ's command to make disciples or meditate upon God's eternal desire that all know him, that all be part of his Body, that all men and women spend eternity with him, that he would lose none of those given to him.
We have become a bunch of people who would not only NOT leave the 99 and go out after the one who has strayed, we'd happily drive another 30 or 60 sheep out of the fold ourselves because they weren't meeting our standards. All we seem to care about is that they are messing with our personal dream of what the Church should be like. How is it possible that the evangelical spirit of a St. Dominic, a St. Catherine, a St. Ignatius of Loyola, or a St. Daniel Comboni has been so eviscerated in our generation(s)?"
"In the Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. He asks he people, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in he desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?” Not being shepherds, we smile as Jesus describes the joy of the shepherd of finding the sheep and carrying it home and then rejoicing with his neighbors at the recovery.
Jesus’ hearers, would have been struck by the absurdity of Jesus’ story. No shepherd in his right mind would leave 99 sheep alone, running the risk of their running off or being attacked by animals or coming to harm in some other way. The shepherd would unhappily accept the loss of the single sheep.
But our ways are not God’s ways and for God it is not acceptable for even a single sheep to be lost. Two days ago in John’s Gospel we heard Jesus say that that “this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me.”
Aaaah. Deep breath.
"This is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me."
There is a lot going on this month. Join our dauntless teachers in Illinois, Memphis, Seattle, Detroit, Brooklyn, and Idaho for some life-changing, fun, and high energy formation.
First of all, Fr. Mike will be celebrating his birthday tomorrow in his home town of Washington, Illinois where he and Keith will be teaching a Called & Gifted workshop at St. Patrick's Catholic Church. Local boy makes very good. We're informing Keith about the uber-secret birthday thing (you didn't hear it from me!) so that he can torment Fr. Mike in whatever way his fiendish, sci-fi writer's brain can come up with.
The following weekend (November 12, 13) it will be Memphis, Seattle, and Detroit.
Meanwhile, I will be spend November 13 giving a day on discerning personal mission and call at the Archdiocese of Detroit's Women's Conference. (It will be a good time so y'all come now, ya hear! And come up and introduce yourself! I'd love to meet you.)
Afterwards, I'll have three discernment-related regional gigs in the Pontiac, MI area. Then I'll be winging my way to Brooklyn, NY where Keith and I will be meeting up at Most Precious Blood Church on November 19 and 20 for another Called & Gifted workshop. This will be so cool since it will be our first workshop in the Diocese of Brooklyn and my first chance to experience that wonderful town.
Which I think will be our 446th live C & G since I offered the first one as a volunteer to 20 hand-picked people in Seattle in the fall of 1993. What an amazing, fascinating, blessed journey it has been to catch a glimpse of what God is doing in his sons and daughters.
Feeling financial stress? Here's a quick, painless remedy for the recession blues.
Visit the Global Rich List and see where you stand in comparison to the other 6.9 billion humanoids on the planet. All you have to do is enter in your yearly income and hit enter and you'll probably feel like an instant millionaire.
I know I did. My modest Institute salary puts me in the top 4% of the human race.
We have been blessed more than we know. And we have the capacity to be more of a blessing than we usually imagine.
Once upon a time I lived in Swansea, the old Welsh mining town and harbor where Dylan Thomas grew up. It was about Swansea that Thomas quipped: "This town has more layers than an onion and everyone of them can move you to tears."
I thought of Thomas' comment because I just returned from voting where I had a Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington-Jimmy-Stewart moment.
I returned strangely moved. Maybe it was the sheer dim, shabby, thread-bareness of it all. Maybe it was the dusty church hall, the battered tables, or the elderly volunteers with their lists and stickers. Or the cheap red paper signs reminding potential last minute campaigners (there were none) that they must stand 100 yards from the door to the polling place.
I think that what finally brought tears to my eyes was the earnest little woman who carefully stood where she could not see how I had voted and yet where she could direct me to the woman who would process my ballot and who also carefully did not look at what I had or had not marked on the simple cardboard sheet I was turning in.
For all they knew, I was voting against their candidates. For all they knew, I was delivering a blow to their most cherished civic ideals. And yet they devoted themselves to ensuring that I exercised my right to do so in complete freedom and anonymity. In thousands of precincts around America - in blue, red, and purple states - tens of thousands of other volunteers were enabling millions of my fellow citizens to do the same today.
All the frantic noise, the vast sums of money, the sturm and drang of the election had come down to this quiet, sober moment. Presided over by a humble, self-forgetful army of civic servants whose names most of us will never know.
I just had to say “thank-you for your service" to the woman who took my ballot. If it wouldn’t have disturbed the hush of the moment, I would have tried to thank all the volunteers present. We owe them. We owe all who ensure that year after year, our experience of voting is dim and threadbare and ordinary instead of violent or marred by corruption.
In the context of human history, that qualifies as a major achievement. God bless all who make it possible.
I just wanted to spread the word that our "Come and See" introduction to the Making Disciples process drew 800 participants and receive a very enthusiastic response. Bishop Wilkerson of the San Fernando region was very pleased. The Bishop admitted that he had originally predicted that only 80 - 100 people would show and he was delighted to be wrong. Our amazing LA team had everything organized down to the letter and did an outstanding job.
Monday, we're repeating the same day for 128 Catholic school teachers in Palmdale.
The long anticipated Lausanne III Congress: Cape Town 2010, is taking place this week in South Africa. This is the ecumenical council of evangelical missions - with 4,200 mission leaders from 192 countries, 1,100 staff working behind the scenes, and another 100,000 participants meeting in groups at internet-based link points around the world. The goal was to have 65% of those attending be from the global south, reflecting the new demography of global Christianity.
One problem with this representational approach is that almost no Catholics are present and they comprise 50% of the world’s Christians. The organizers specifically mentioned their desire to have Catholic and Orthodox Christians present but it seems that the resulting numbers are very, very tiny and essentially invisible. It is really too bad. We badly need the wake-up call that witnessing the amazing passion, dedication, and sophistication of the evangelical missions movement would give. Please take the time to look around the site and watch some of the videos. Their focus is definitely not insider baseball.
If we think of Catholics and Orthodox Christians as a unit and all the heirs of the Reformation as a separate unit, we will see a definite trend. In 1900, Catholics and Orthodox Christians together comprised nearly three quarters of all Christians on the planet.
The 20th century and the rise of Communism in its historical homelands was disastrous for Orthodoxy, whose global footprint has dropped from 22% of all Christians in 1900 to 12.6% today.
Catholics, who hit the high water mark of 53.9% of all affiliated Christians in 1970, have been slowly declining ever since. A good case can be made that one cause of Catholic decline, in addition to the wide-spread disaffection in Europe, is because most of our missionaries abandoned initial proclamation of Christ as the heart of Catholic missionary work in the 60’s. While evangelical and renewalist Protestants just revved their engines.
110 years later, the Catholic and Orthodox communions have dropped to roughly 60% of all Christians and the heirs of the Reformation now make up about 40%. (There are a number of double-affiliated Christians who have been counted twice.) New forms of Christianity, which hardly registered on the ecclesial radar in 1900, are now major players. Independent Christians make up 17% of all Christians and renewalist Christians (Pentecostal/charismatic/neocharismatics) make up 30%. They are heirs of the Reformation, they are ones evangelizing, and they are the fastest growing faiths in the world.
To give some perspective, the general global population is growing at a 1.21% per annum rate. Catholics lag behind at 1.0% growth per annum. The Orthodox bring up the rear at a 0.68% per year growth rate. The Muslim community is growing nearly three times as fast as the Orthodox at 1.82% per annum. While Independent Christians and renewalist Christians are growing at a blistering 2.42% per annum, twice as fast as the global population. World Christian Trends estimates that there are 41,000 new renewalist Christians in the world every 24 hours. (These figures are from the Status of Global Mission, 2010.)
The projections for 2025 follow the same trajectory. But the outlook for Orthodoxy is even more bleak. As John Allen pointed out in his book "The Future Church", the population implosion taking place right now in Russia and other parts of the Orthodox heartland means that it is very likely that Orthodox numbers will shrink another 25% in the next 15 years. Since the Orthodox haven't done much mission work in the global south, they can't count upon growth there to counteract their losses in eastern Europe.
Meanwhile, the percentage of Catholics will continue its slow decline, dropping below the 50% mark to about 48.8% of all Christians. While Independent and renewalist Christians continue to grow rapidly. If these trends do not change significantly in the next 40 years, Protestants and their spiritual heirs will comprise the majority of Christians by 2050.
This isn't a numbers-for-its-own-sake game. We are talking about the spiritual, earthly, and eternal well-being of many hundreds of millions of human beings. We have a beautiful and rich theology of evangelization but our practice as a communion is so lame compared to the energy and fire being demonstrated at Cape Town 2010. (As I have noted before, watching Catholics evangelize is like watching a bunch of Southern Baptists sight-read their way through the liturgy of Holy Week. Because knowing how to do something complex like evangelization or liturgy is as much about culture, inherited assumptions and practices, and building upon the achievements of past generations as the theology. )
This could have been our wake-up call – if we bothered to take the evangelical missionary movement seriously. But we haven't. One day soon, we won’t have a choice.
An interesting side note:
The online resources for Cape Town 2010 are so extensive that I haven’t had time to figure them all out but the goal was that interested Christians around the world could attend virtually. (The software they are using has this motto ”Real is so yesterday”.)
The organizers announced this morning that their internet connections had survived a major cyber attack. “We have 700 GlobaLink sites in 95 countries extending the Congress to 100,000 people’, said Victor Nakah, GlobaLink Chair for the Congress. ‘Finally, after two rough days, they are being served as planned.’
Here's the skinny. The bandwidth and internet access problems that have plagued the Lausanne World Congress in Cape Town over the past few days were the result of a malicious virus from a phone brought into the Cape Town International Convention Center. According to unofficial reports, millions of hits from 66 different sites eventually crashed the system.
Which country? Well, one of my strongest theories was that the New Zealand Government was upset at their small representation and were getting back at Lausanne. But now we have heard that 95% of these internet hits came from the country of China, and the 66 locations were also situated in China, and that account of a Chinese fellow taking photos of Congress participants before running away, and this has caused us to consider China at least as a potentially suspicious candidate.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government refused at the last minute to let the Chinese participants leave the country to attend Cape Town 2010.