I am writing this letter between Palm Sunday and Easter Day, so in what we call Holy Week, because it also contains Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. This year it is also just a few days since 42 Egyptian (Coptic) Christians were killed by two bombs which went off in or outside their Churches on Palm Sunday. It is really tough to be a Christian in the Middle East. Imagine deciding whether or not to go to Church having to take into account that you might be a target for a terrorist attack. And yet many were there on Palm Sunday despite similar attacks previously.
In our country it could hardly be more different. It is so easy to get to Church. And yet the reality is that in the last few decades the number of those choosing to do so has declined. Ironically the Church in Western Europe (unlike the United States and much of Africa or South America where churchgoing remains strong) is more likely to ‘fail’ through lack of interest rather than persecution. Of course there are lots of reasons for this trend. Some of it is no doubt the fault of the Church but there are much wider issues too: a belief that science has disproved the Bible (only true of some literal understandings of the Bible); increasing education and a consequent change in attitudes to any authority (teachers, police, MPs, clergy and even God); and an increasing fragmentation or specialisation in the ways people choose to use their free time. We want to do what we want to do and activities that require collaborating or sharing with others are therefore less attractive – unless they want to do what we want to do.
However, the Church has been here before. At different times in its history it has sometimes been very powerful and at other times very powerless. One of my personal observations is that it has often been better when less powerful. And of course, God is still God whatever the state of the Church is at any particular time. His creativity, understanding, willingness to forgive and welcome, and His love for each one of us remains the same at all times.