|By Niamh Whelan
This is the third in a series of four articles by Niamh Whelan giving a synopsis of one of the education meetings from last year.
When you think about it, our time today is really split in two: time for work (or school) and time for leisure. For most of us, religion finds itself competing with a wide range of other tempting options on the recreational side. So how can religion compete and continue to make itself relevant in today’s world?
Rabbi Misha opened with the fact that today less than 50% of the Jewish community could be termed “practicing” (although remember that Judaism is not about going to temple every week but rather about a code of behavior that you follow).
Fr. Bernie believes that the “all are welcome here” message echoed in the Gospel is how the Catholic re-ligion fits into peoples’ lives. In his experience, it’s quite normal for people to return to the church after a sabbatical “leave of absence”…either as they settle down and have families or as their families grow up and move on.
What keeps us coming back?
At St. Raymonds, Fr. Bernie acknowledges that within his parish there are differing religious needs. One of the ways the parish addresses this is to tailor the structure of the Mass to appeal to the different “audiences”. The parish has also strived to develop a series of specific social, educational, and outreach programs designed to better engage parish members in the life of the church. As many of us know however, this is not the case in all parishes. Our personal ex-periences and interactions with our local parish drive the value that we associate with religion and the amount of time that we deem appropriate to devote to it.
Rabbi Misha’s experience is that religion must sell itself and that its unique selling proposition is “a quest for meaning”. In his mind, religion may not provide all of the answers but as long as it helps us in our search for answers, it will continue to remain relevant. In this context, it is interesting to note that the word “synagogue” means house of worship, gathering, and study which could be considered the three key ele-ments of Judaism.
So what's the way forward?
In conclusion, Fr. Bernie and Rabbi Misha agreed that in order to remain relevant and compete success-fully with other leisure activities, religion needs to find the right balance between the traditional and the modern. Traditional, in that people expect a Mass to be a certain way or expect a Friday night service to follow a specific structure. Modern, in that the spiri-tual and scripture-based side of religion needs to be relevant to today’s fast-paced world. Quite a tall or-der indeed.