It's sad to see another church close, but after 2,000 years of turbulent history Christianity's death is much exaggerated
Philip Larkin, in his beautiful poem Church Going, described a church as "A serious house on serious earth...", and many people will agree with him.
A church is indeed a serious place, but it also offers consolation, opportunity for forgiveness, repentance and hope. Sadly, attendance is dropping at an alarming rate, apart from in the newer evangelical and house churches, where numbers are rising. News that another is closing, Fortwilliam and Macrory in north Belfast, underlines the downward trend.
There are many complex reasons. Many young people find the worship boring, while older people complain services have been dumbed-down for a "happy-clappy" generation. There is also the reality that churches are competing for time in a busy secular world, and people find their message irrelevant in a society that worships other gods, like materialism.
Yet there is a significant and obvious paradox, in that people turn to the church in times of crisis, or landmark family occasions such as weddings, baptisms and funerals. On these occasions many clergy and church members demonstrate the warmth of caring Christianity, which in turn attracts new members. The churches also play a significant social role in caring for a wide range of people, including children, young mothers and the elderly. They reach out to those in need by helping to stock food banks, and in other ways.
Despite such good work, without which the Government could not cope alone in its social outreach, the churches are still finding it difficult to fill the pews. Clearly, much needs to be done to attract new members. The answer does not lie in gimmicks which bring people in for a short time, but rather in the quiet, selfless work of church members, which impresses outsiders and makes them aware what the church can offer at its best.
However, some of this good work is offset by some of the judgmentalism and divisions which disfigure the churches, and members need to learn to agree to disagree more graciously.
Churches have a vital role, and the loss of members is a loss to our wider society. The comforting reality is, however, that Christianity has survived more than 2,000 years of turbulent history and its ultimate demise is greatly exaggerated.
The words of G.K. Chesterton are both critical and inspiring. In his work What's Wrong With The World, he stated: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and left untried."