by Derek Scalia, Deacon-Intern at St. James
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” - Isaiah 43:19
A few years ago, the Pew Research Center conducted a study on religious identity and practice in each state. Once again, New Hampshire ranked as the least religious state in the country. Only 33% of people in the state identified as highly religious. According to their study, only 36% stated that they pray daily, and 43% say that they believe in God with certainty. As a whole, the number of people identifying as religious is in decline across the country. This change is often difficult to accept, and is deeply personal.
For many of us, we grew up in a church with large congregations. Church was a part of community life. I remember growing up with Blue Laws with almost everything closed on Sundays. Sometimes, I reminisce about those days. During those days, it seemed that the work of the Church was easy. At least that was the image. During the height of church participation and attendance, we also saw great discrimination based upon gender, race, and sexual orientation. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that Sunday mornings were the most segregated hours in America. This is not to say that great things were not done during that time. The history of the Church is filled with stories of social uplift and mobility. The Church has always been important, and will be forever. However, in our practice as members of the Church, we have sometimes struggled to follow Christ.
When great change is occurring, I always turn back to Scripture. Within the book of Genesis, God created all of creation. We know the story well. However, if we lean deeper into the story of creation, we come to believe that God is always creating. We begin to understand that the creation story is every day where God is creating something new. This Sunday’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah says, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it.” When we are tied to how things once were, we can often overlook God’s invitation to the newness of life and creation.
Where is God creating new before us? We can look at the data collected by the Pew Research Center and determine that the Church is in decline. It can a feel hopeless, with us grasping at straws in attempt to salvage what we can. On the other hand, we can turn to Scripture, to provide us an eternal truth and understanding. Isaiah reminds us that God is doing something wonderful. As we follow Christ, we are led upon a journey of deeper understanding and wondrous opportunities. It may sound foolish in light of the data, but I find the Church to be more vibrant than ever.
I am inspired be the dedication of those that boldly follow their faith to stand with the poor, the outcasts, and the forgotten. The ministries that stand with our brothers and sisters in the struggle for LGBTQ+ inclusion move me. I am humbled by the increased devotion to prayer and healing ministries. These ministries, and so many others, overtly declare that God is working through us, in new ways, to create something new. The question remains if we are willing to perceive it.