The decline of the importance of communities of faith

A number of years ago the Canadian Theologian Douglas John Hall said that the primary and perhaps inescapable task of the church in Canada was to re-arrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.  There are days when religious professionals think he's right.  The evidence of declining interest in organised religion is clear to anyone who can remember when you had to get to church on time to get a seat.  Now most churches offer you a choice of prime seats in the balcony or orchestra.  As much as anyone else I would love to be in a church where you had to go online to reserve your seat ahead of time.

And yet, and yet, there is this story of Gideon being called to fight against the enemies of Israel.  He amasses an army and then is instructed to cull it.  Twice.  And those who are culled are the most able soldiers.  He is left with the least experienced and most inattentive so-called combatants.  And with them he wins, not because of their giftedness but because they employ a strategy their opponents don't expect.  He gets to work with a faithful remnant who nevertheless have a vision of peace.

It's fair for faith communities to describe themselves as marginalised, perhaps even unappreciated.  But if they use the apparent decline as an opportunity for evaluation and even, God help us, re-visioning, we may find that we aren't so unimportant after all.

Yesterday I attended a press conference with other faith leaders at Toronto City Hall sponsored by Faith in the City ( calling on the Municipal Government to commit funds to their year-old commitment to reduce poverty in the GTA (  Were all the councilors or the mayor represented?  No.  Because this was not as important to the municipal agenda as the cost of garbage collection?  Perhaps. The people in the room in addition to the people who were signatories to the document were not unimportant or without influence.  It will be interesting to see how much a "marginalised" group will accomplish together when they are working for and with people who are economically marginalised.

Particularly in light of a document I received yesterday from The Halo Project ( sponsored by  It presented the preliminary findings of a study of the social value of faith communities in Toronto.  The findings are that the ten communities represented are critical economic catalysts, having an economic impact (through providing open space, education, volunteer capital, employment assistance, etc.) of $45 million annually.  That's just ten.

Maybe Gideon's band is small but mightier than we realise.