12 February 2006

A revival in Boston?

Got this article just recently about the growth of Protestant evangelicalism in Boston.

Park Street defies the myth that Boston and the rest of New England have shed their religious heritage for a secular society. It also defies the institutional hold that the Catholic church has on America’s most Catholic city. In fact, evangelical Christianity is thriving in Boston. During the past 30 years, church growth, fueled by evangelical university groups and immigrant communities, has dramatically outpaced population growth. At the same time, mainline denominations have dwindled and the abuse scandal in the Catholic church has forced the closing of dozens of parishes. Evangelical leaders expect this “quiet revival” not only to continue, but to blossom into another Great Awakening….

Catholic collapse

The Catholic church is to Boston what evangelicals are to Wheaton or Colorado Springs, says Harrell. The influence of the Catholic church is everywhere from parishes to politics. Harrell says Catholics often did not leave the church because of the abuse scandal, but they were shocked at how the church handled it. “That’s what sent people through the roof,” he says.

A recent survey found that only one-third of Catholics attend mass weekly. Despite the low attendance, Catholics tend to stick it out with the church they grew up in, Harrell says. At least, they are reluctant to attend church elsewhere.

But many do find themselves at evangelical churches like Park Street. “We get a lot of recovering Catholics,” Harrell says.

There is rarely a direct move from the Catholic Church to Park Street, Harrell says. Rather people spend years disenchanted with church before trying out a new one. They are also looking for something more demanding than the church they grew up in.

I replied with the following to the correspondent who sent it to me:

The CT article is largely good, and I think it’s accurate. One exception I take is in what seems a somewhat slight bias against Roman Catholic Christianity. For example, the measures of faithfulness that it uses (weekly church attendance) isn’t really appropriate to Roman Catholics, both for cultural and semi-theological reasons. If they measured how long individual people stayed faithful and committed to one church community as the measure here, the RCs would win, as they don’t change churches as often. It’s subtle, but I think there’s an argument that some bias is there. Not that this should entirely surprise: both evangelicals and mainline Protestants have historically considered Catholics as somehow distinct from “Christians.” I even remember hearing stuff like this in church and school as I grew up. Probably this has as much to do with lingering ethnic reasons as theological ones. It’s ironic, considering that we as Protestants came from the Roman church, and that the Roman church, for example, has reformed the problems that gave rise to the Reformation (the Roman Catholic church and the Lutheran World Congress have even signed a joint statement emphasizing that they have the same understanding of the role of grace in salvation, which ends up being essentially Luther’s position).

One of the great things about the Roman church is that it holds the Great Tradition of the Church and that it has the historical memory that we Protestants often lack. The result seems to be that we sometimes teach things that contradict that faith: for example, I can think of some things I learned in church and school that, if not heretical, skirted the edge of heresy. (Like a Donatist understanding of the effects of the purity of ministers and clergy on the effectiveness of the sacraments, for example.) Having a theologian as a partner has made me realize that my own theological beliefs are not too far afield from the large tradition of the Western Church, and it has made me much more comfortable in the Roman church. It’s probably why I stay on the Anglican via media, halfway between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

Posted in Rayleejun on 12 February 2006 at 4:29 pm by Nate