Glencairn Methodist Church
March - 2012
"A School for Character?"
Even after the mass exodus from the greater Shankill area of mid and north Belfast during the "troubles", there are still about 30,000 people living there, to a large extent in comfortable modern homes. But yet, here in the heartland of Ulster Protestantism, the mainstream churches are, with some exceptions, suffering from a decline in membership and hence income. There seems to be a crisis of confidence in these churches. [Perhaps there are too many churches in the area, but that is a story for another day!]
Mid Belfast is not alone in this respect in that church attendance is falling in many places in these islands. The reason seems to be that the prevailing culture in the society in which we live has changed remarkably over the last 20 years or so. It is a culture increasingly alien to religion in general and to Christianity in particular. It is not hard to identify those features of society that demonstrate this. Graham Tomlin, in a series of lectures in Belfast lately, suggested these: First there is a view that religion is simply irrelevant to people today; secondly there is the pervasiveness of consumerism which so attracted people's attention and wealth; and thirdly there is a crisis of character in society - moral rules for behaviour are being revised detrimentally.
Clearly church leaders can speak out against these aspects of culture - if the media give them space to do so - but society at large has not been listening to bishops and archbishops, moderators and presidents for some time.
The main thrust of effort in attempt to redeem and transform society and its culture, is for rank and file Christians to live holy lives, not conforming to the worst excesses of society, but meeting and, God willing, transforming individuals through relationship.
Leading a holy life, becoming more Christ like in nature and then in behaviour, requires training and practice, and Graham Tomlin, in his lectures, suggested that the local churches need to become "Schools of Character", building up the character of its members in virtue, helping one another to become better examples and hence witnesses to society, and to allow the Holy Spirit to work through them in transforming the lives of others.
The features of a holy life can be deduced for the Bible. For example, St Paul's list of the "fruits of the spirit" in Galatians 5 vv 22,23. Each should seek to nurture these "fruits" in their lives - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. And just as an athlete trains to build up muscle were necessary to enhance their performance - arms, legs, back, wherever - so to the Christian should train to achieve spiritual fitness. It might be an idea to identify which of these fruits is most lacking in us, and to train to develop it through repeated practice. If you "fly off the handle" too easily, or "lose your cool" as they say today, then when a situation arises, remember that you are working at self control and anger management. And so on - I am sure you can think of lots of ways of doing this.
This year, 2012, is Olympic Games year and the games are in London soon. Athletes are hard at work toning up muscles, practising hard to win the gold medal. St Paul encourages Christian to train like this so to achieve our goal of becoming more Christ like and then more likely to win souls for Christ.
13 March 2012
NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at http://glencairn.connor.anglican.org/previousmessages.htm