Monday, November 26, 2007

Life in Europe?

This is a (lightly edited) column from the Wall Street Journal this weekend.
The Well Spring

Old ladies sitting in otherwise empty churches. That's the picture most of my American friends have of spirituality in Europe. How is it, then, that a guy like me, Bible Belt-born and -bred, lifetime churchgoer, has found spiritual renewal in this pit of secularism? And am I the only one?

The hard data show that Christianity remains in long-term decline here. A 2004 Gallup poll found that 15% of Europeans attend a weekly worship service of any faith, compared with 44% of Americans. And the spiritual gap between the U.S. and Europe is actually "worse than people think," says Philip Jenkins, author of "God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis."

But the light is not yet out. Those remaining believers and the faith communities they form are what Prof. Jenkins calls "white dwarves" -- because "they're smaller than the sun, but they shine brighter." I'm no astrophysicist, but it seems to me that such intense bodies are more likely to expand than to contract.

This is certainly true of the church in which I'm involved here, which has grown to 120 members -- larger than the average church in Belgium -- in just a couple of years.

My wife and I began to look for a church soon after moving to Brussels three years ago. It was almost a reflex and initially may have amounted to little more than the search for the familiar. After trying an Anglican church that resembled the Catholic one she grew up in and a Scottish congregation that seemed like the Methodist one I was raised in, we came upon a new church called The Well that had been planted by missionaries from the U.S. It's a mix of the familiar and the foreign. The leaders speak with American accents, but rather than deliver a sermon, they encourage attendees to hash out the week's topic in small discussion groups.

The Well doesn't gather as one large group in a church building but rather as a few smaller groups in caf├ęs and restaurants. That's in part because we don't actually own a building. But there's a purpose behind this, too: It's far less intimidating for newcomers to visit a public space with a dozen or so other people than a normal "church" with pews and a steeple and a hundred strange faces. In the course of our gatherings, we also meet people who were just going out for coffee and probably wouldn't have wandered into a sanctuary along the way.

This emphasis on the nontraditional is intentional. For many of the Europeans I've met here, it's not God who is dead to them as much as it is The Church -- the official, often state-supported church, be it Catholic, Anglican or Lutheran. Now new life is being infused into these churches by missionaries from America and even

Some of the elements in The Well -- and its sister churches in Madrid, Amsterdam and other European cities -- that are deemed unusual here would seem familiar to American Christians: worship songs that sound like rock 'n' roll rather than 18th-century hymns; discussions focusing on a personal relationship with God rather than a list of do's and don'ts. But other elements would seem out of place even in cool U.S. churches. Holding services in a microbrewery is an effective way to hammer home the point that church doesn't have to be the way it always has been.

The message is getting out. A mostly American and British group at first, The Well now regularly attracts people from Belgium, France, Holland, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria, Ghana and Lebanon. Some wouldn't be attending church if The Well didn't exist.

There is an added sense of urgency when you undergo such self-examination in a land where being religious is not exactly de rigueur. The data don't yet reveal a similar awakening in the Europeans around me. But I have faith.
Mr. Wingfield is an editorial-page writer for The Wall Street Journal Europe.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Book Review

Waking Lazarus, by T.L. Hines.

Jude Allman has been declared clinically dead many times, and always returns to life. He tries to live an anonymous life, but his son is abducted and Jude finds he has strange supernatural powers. Taking this as a cue that he has found his calling, Jude commits to finding his son, even it means facing down demons -- not just those of his own past.

A good spiritual thriller, well constructed and executed. Note that it is rougher than most Christian novels - not for the faint of heart.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Song of Triumph

A 7th Century hymn, from the Latin

The strife is over, the battle done,
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun.
Alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The powers of death have done their worst,
But Christ their legions has dispensed:
Let shout of holy joy outburst.
Alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Lord! By the stripes which wounded thee,
From death’s dread sting your servants free,
That we may live and sing to thee.
Alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Friday, November 02, 2007

To those who have gone before me ....

Today and yesterday are opporutnities for the church to specifically remember those who have gone on to their eternal reward, both as martyrs and examples for us to follow.

Thank you, Lord, for those who have sacrificed themselves for the faith, whose blood has made for fertile ground for the growth of the worldwide church.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Book Review

Flirting With Monasticism, by Karen E. Sloan. It is just your typical "Girl meets boy. Boy joins monastic order" story -- Sloan recounts her friendship (stronger feelings on her part) with a man taking orders as a Dominican friar. A protestant, she recounts her introduction to the order, to monks, to Catholocism, etc ... very interesting read. I learned a ton.