This week’s post is written by the Rev. Dr. Patrick G. Duggan, Executive Director of the United Church of Christ Church Building & Loan Fund. Since 1995, Rev. Dr. Duggan has also served as senior pastor of the Congregational Church of South Hempstead in South Hempstead, New York.
Sometimes I think God has played a joke on me; three academic degrees, decades of authorized ministry and now I work in the national headquarters of a candle-making business.
The so-called Mainline Christian denominations in the United States have a lot in common with the candle-making business. As a group, we have been in existence for a few hundred years. For much of that time our influence was pervasive, touching the majority of households in the country. It once seemed that people would always need us. Then suddenly, thanks to the genius of Lewis Latimer and Thomas Edison, candle-making quickly became obsolete. For the Mainline, decline came not so much from technological advances but from increasing religious pluralism, rapid social and cultural change. Like candles, you can still find a church almost everywhere you go. For most people however, Mainline Christianity is a relic of days gone by.
With the rise of 24/7 news channels, news websites, RSS feeds and social media, the newspaper industry has declined like candle-making. Once there were thousands of newspapers, now there are only a few. In the new book Weird Church, Beth Ann Estock & Paul Nixon describe how The New York Times has embraced this changing reality:
“In 2006 they launched a mobile website. In 2007 they began experimenting with …Twitter. In 2010 the Times began to hire bloggers… In 2012 they published an interactive storytelling experience… In 2014 they launched … a mobile app…In late 2015 they launched a virtual reality platform…They are now requiring their journalists to participate in digital boot camps…”
In the face of imminent demise, The New York Times re-oriented itself to its mission and core values. This newspaper business figured out that its purpose is to make news available to as many people as possible. And while the Times still sells newspapers to a much smaller number of people who hold to the tradition, it understands that its destiny is not tied to ink and paper.
The numbers tell the story of a dying past. But somewhere, a candle maker realized that the future is not about wicks and wax. Faced with imminent demise, that candle maker re-oriented team leaders, colleagues, and employees to its mission and core values. A very old business figured out that the purpose of candle-making is to make light available to as many people as possible. And while there are still a few people who love tradition, this candle maker is more focused on the billions more people who are desperately seeking light in the darkness.
Once we were amazing candle makers. Now we are purveyors of light.
No, God is not joking. God has placed us in the most exciting time to be in the business of light.