This week the bedrock of an era of mainline Protestantism in North America, the Alban Institute, announced that it was closing. For many of us, news of Alban’s collapse felt like a death in the church family, leaving us behind and bewildered as we reconcile ourselves with their legacy. It’s a Holy Saturday kind of feeling.
These are the kinds of Lent-infused questions flying around in my earshot: Should we see this as one more sign that the Protestant Church is dying? What does this mean for the future of the mainline church in North American today? Where’s the panic button in my pulpit?!
We all grieve the passing of the Alban Institute because of what it symbolized for an age of congregational life that is passing away. Alban did what it did brilliantly for the time in which it was built. But Alban was birthed towards the end of an era of Protestant strength and institutional dominance in our culture. And Alban died because it could not adapt to a culture where strength no longer means institutional dominance.
Times have changed for good. So instead of trying rebuild the institution of another era, we must look anew together at the landscape of Holy Saturday time in the mainline church. What does the world passionately need us to be? Where is God’s still small voice? Holy Saturday is a time of possibility too.
I believe that the church’s best days are ahead. I don’t say that glibly. Resurrection is never glib. But every day I talk to visionary leaders who are adapting the practice of church to the world we live in today. They are experimenting with all kinds of ways to nurture the Realm of God in this world – aka, to make church happen. Instead of a navel-gazing, butts in seats focus, they are following God’s call into the world. When I listen to them, I cannot help being hopeful for the future of the mainline.
If you don’t believe me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And we’ll figure out together what to do with these Holy Saturday times in your church. We already know the end of the story, remember? And He is risen…
By Rev. Cameron Trimble
Executive Director and CEO
Center for Progressive Renewal