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  • Tim Blodgett

Showing Up

The New York Times recently reported on the growing trend of absenteeism in schools. 10% of students were absent on the average day in the 2022-2023 school year. Chronic absenteeism, missing at least 10% of school days, jumped by 30% or more in 7 of the 10 largest states. Many students simply got out of the habit of attending school every weekday. “For almost two years, we told families that school can look different and that schoolwork could be accomplished in times outside of the traditional 8-to-3 day,” Elmer Roldan, who runs a dropout prevention group, told The Los Angeles Times. “Families got used to that.”[1]

A similar story is playing out in churches across the country. Attendance is down. Regular attendance is waning. Even churches with online options are seeing those alternatives used at reduced rates. The slow trickle of membership decline in Presbyterian churches over the last four decades has reached a torrent in places. While there are many churches that are doing well or staying stable (and I try to lift up those stories and practices as often as I can), many others would identify with the conversation I had a few weeks ago with a small church that struggled to find pulpit supply every week. When I offered to help them partner and watch an online service from another church in Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery from their sanctuary, the response was “If we did that, they would just watch from home instead, and we would never see them again.” How many churches will we close in the next ten years if these trends continue?

It does also make me wonder what it would take for people to want to show up? What could be so exciting, impactful, or lifechanging that it overcame the inertia of staying at home from church on Sunday or any day of the week?

The story of the paralytic and his friends in Mark 2 is an example of what I am talking about here. Not only did they show up to see Jesus, when they could not get close to Jesus they “unroofed the roof” in the Greek translation or “removed the roof” in the NRSVUE to lower their friend down. There was something so essential about this paralytic encountering Christ that they had to show up.

I have written before about the importance of coming back to church on this side of the pandemic. I have written about the value of “place” in the past, as well. There is an embodiment angle to showing up too. We can worship online and even extend the Communion Table to those that cannot be present on Sunday. There is something significant to gathering together too. There is something lifechanging about a church that actively alters lives by supporting, feeding, and caring for them. There is something impactful about knowing I can affect the world by banding together with friends to address brokenness we see in our community. There is something exciting about doing all of that and knowing it is what Jesus Christ would be doing if he was here among us.

Despite the current challenges to worship attendance and church membership, I am hopeful about Christ’s church. I am hopeful because we do show up and we show up with one another. We are called and compelled to show up. And we do respond. Showing up can and should mean showing up for worship on Sunday. More times than not, showing up will mean working with friends to lower your friend to encounter Jesus. Blessings, Rev. Tim Blodgett General Presbyter[1] Leonhardt, David. “Where Are the Students?” The New York Times, September 5, 2023.

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