Faithfully Yours - Embracing the inevitable


Neil Strohschein
Neepawa Banner & Press

I have written on this topic several times before, but I feel the need to address it again; so that those who can most identify with these comments will find words of hope and comfort in them. Let’s begin by facing an important fact. The last 30-40 years have not been kind to communities in rural Canada. Towns and villages that, at one time, were bustling centers of economic activity have been reduced to little more than bedroom communities.

Years ago, most of these villages and towns had at least one grain elevator, a general store, a full-service service station, a fully staffed post office, a school, several recreational facilities, at least one restaurant or café, a hotel, a community hall and at least one church (often more). But that’s not how things are today.

Little by little, we have witnessed the demise of smaller, rural communities. Elevators have vanished. Businesses are closing. Schools sit empty. Local hospitals are being converted into personal care homes and medical clinics. Post offices are losing their staff and becoming indoor community mail boxes. Community centers and recreational facilities are still being used but changing health regulations may soon force many to either close or severely restrict the activities they can host. Such is life in rural Canada. Don’t expect it to change any time soon.

Of all the changes that have happened in rural Canada, few are as dramatic as changes to the religious landscape. Most rural communities once housed churches of several different faith traditions. Some are still identified as churches—but no longer have regular services. Others have been sold and have been converted to private residences, small businesses or museums.

Those that remain open are struggling to survive. They cannot afford full-time clergy. Operating and maintenance costs on their buildings are high. Attendance is declining. So are offerings. In time, many of them will have to make the painful decision to either merge with another group of similar size and beliefs or cease operations altogether. Sadly, some will choose to close.

But does that mean the church in that community will suddenly disappear? Absolutely not; because the church is not an organization. Its existence does not depend on having a building in which to worship or being affiliated with a national religious denomination.

The church Jesus established is an organism. It is the body of which he is the head. It is a living entity. It is best described using the words of St. John, found in Revelation 7:9; as “a great multitude taken from every kindred, tongue, tribe and nation under heaven.” They all share one thing in common. They (and “they” includes you and me) are “children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 3:26)

We worship differently, but that’s ok. Some worship in buildings, some in their homes, some alone; but God knows who we are, where we are and how devoted we are to him. The family of God is as diverse as the human family itself; and within it, there is a place for everyone.

The next 50 years will see many more houses of worship closing their doors forever. But God’s faithful people will remain. Only now they won’t be identified by the building in which they worship or the organization with which they affiliate.

Now they will be seen by the way in which they live and by the love that they show to those around them. Which, by the way, is how Jesus said people would recognize his followers.