The State of Mainstream Religion in America: Implications for the American Guild of Organists

By Walker, John | The American Organist, December 2012 | Go to article overview

The State of Mainstream Religion in America: Implications for the American Guild of Organists


Walker, John, The American Organist


The following article is the first in a series of "white papers" that THE AMERICAN ORGANIST will publish during forthcoming months. Generated from study and deliberations of the Task Force on Long-Range Planning, these papers focus on the implications for the American Guild of Organists of current and developing socioeconomic phenomena. Having now completed its work, the Task Force on LongRange Planning offers these papers for the ongoing consideration of all members of the American Guild of Organists.

CHARTERED as an educational organization, throughout its history the American Guild of Organists nevertheless has enjoyed a close relationship with organized religion. Founded in 1896 as both an educational and service organization, today the Guild continues to proclaim a purpose "to advance the cause of organ and choral music, to increase their contributions to aesthetic and religious experiences." For most members of the AGO, the primary employer has always been the church. For organists and also for the American Guild of Organists, the status of mainstream religion is likely the single most important determinant of professional health and success.

Among the deeply troubling trends that are detailed here, rays of hope also shine brightly. The societal phenomena currently affecting mainstream religion will likely continue to impact all organists and also the American Guild of Organists. A mutually shared understanding of these facts will provide an important foundation upon which to construct our professional future as well as that of the AGO.

Background

Among author Jay Gary's Ten Trends in World Religion (1997), the following statements have particular relevance to religion in America:

1. A shift to non white Christianity The statistical mean follower of Christ today is under 20 years old, living in Asia, with a per capita income of less than $600 a year.

2. The growth of Pentecostal and nondenominational Christianity In less than three generations, this movement in the West, Africa, and Asia has grown to an amazing 520 million, making it the second largest expression of faith within the Christian movement, second only to Roman Catholicism.

3. An increase of pluralism in society Increasing cultural diversity and interfaith contact offer opportunities for mutual understanding, growth, and dialogue. On the other hand, the challenge of modernity, with its relativism and individualism, continues to undermine traditional beliefs that once shaped various common creeds, producing culture wars between traditionalists and progressives.

4. An increase of women in pastoral roles Some suggest the impact of increasing numbers of women in the pastorate will bring more emphasis on nurture and growth, with more holistic models of communities and congregations.

In 2011, the National Council of Churches reported that "churches that have been increasing in membership in recent years continue to grow, and likewise, those churches that have been declining in recent years continue to decline." This 79th annual edition of die Yearbook reports a continuing decline in membership of virtually all mainline denominations. The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's second largest denomination and long a reliable generator of church growth, reported a decline in membership for the third year in a row, down 0.42% to 16,160,088 members.

Recent and ongoing concerns, primarily relating to gender and sexual orientation in the ordination of clergy, have led numerous churches and some entire dioceses to separate from their traditional denominations, thereby raising profound and unanswered questions. The office of the Baltimore Presbytery, in one thoughtful analysis, has suggested that, if current trends continue unabated, the Presbyterian Church USA will be extinct by the year 2050.

The 2011 NCC Yearbook also reports church financial trends. Of the 64 denominations reporting, the almost 45 million members contributed almost $36 billion, an annual decrease of $26 million in total income to the churches. …

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