The Rev'd Dilys Woodmore shares her thoughts about
At times we all enjoy indulging in a touch of nostalgia; that sentimental yearning for a period of the past. Nostalgia can be triggered by many different things but being taken back in time by films, poetry, novels, a passing conversation etc. can often provide the catalyst. We begin to re-imagine what it must have been like to live in an earlier time even if we have no real time experience of that period. The tendency is to see all the positives and conveniently forget all the less attractive aspects of life then.
Nostalgia for the earlier years of our own lives can provoke a variety of memories. Childhood and our family life were the building blocks for that future we now inhabit and influenced who we are today. Relationships occupy a large part of our memory and meeting old friends nearly always involves a trip down memory lane. Life, though, does move on; changes are continually re-shaping how we live and it's only when we indulge in a touch of nostalgia that we see by just how much things have changed.
The change in our attitude to religious observance is one of the most often quoted for being radically different now than it was even 20-30 years ago. When I began training for ordination in the late 90s there was still the assumption that people had some affiliation to church even if only for funerals. Now even that has changed as alternative arrangements are possible as no faith and other faiths are accommodated.
I look back with some nostalgia to the time when churches were well supported, had good choirs even in small village settings and many weekday activities were church-related too. However, life now is filled with so many competing activities that church attendance has had to take its turn in the line of other things on offer.
Toll on spiritual health
Sport and charity functions (all in themselves worthy things to be involved with) have to be fitted in with the working week, so inevitably end up being on the Sabbath - a day of so- called rest. 24/7 living takes its toll on people's health and well-being and gives no space for spiritual health.
In many ways the church has had to rethink its position and purpose in society. We had become complacent, expecting church life to continue as it always had done. The wake-up call for change has been recognised and it's a matter of balancing our traditions with new ways that is the challenge.
The present Pope has said that the Catholic church could collapse like a pack of cards if changes to policy and structure are not instigated. It was a brave speech and needed to be said and he is intent on paving the way for radical change.
Indulging in nostalgia for a time when the church was powerful and flourishing is never an option because so often that time had hidden corruption.
Our own churches cannot rely on their past record either as today faith and spirituality are not just accepted as givens but debated and questioned with rigor.
We need to be ready to say what we believe and experience with conviction. How we express ourselves through worship will also have changed over the years.
Each church has its own unique way of relating to the community around. Each has a core group who worship on Sunday but also many more who are connected to the church but who don't feel the need to attend services. If we can rethink what we mean by church life and recognise non-churchgoers as well as churchgoers as equally part of the church then new forms of church will reinvigorate the perception of church in the hearts and minds of the community.
Look to future
Looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses can be an indulgent pleasure. Whether it's the real truth is another matter. I am optimistic that church life will always remain part of our heritage but we need to work hard to ensure that it does and in ways that we can be proud of. Ultimately I believe it will be how we relate to and interact with one another that will be key to ensuring that the future church stands out as a beacon of faith and hope to all around. Instead of nostalgia we should practice forward thinking to ensure this happens.