A Summer of Change

I have assumed most of my life that summers are supposed to be a time when we bask in the sun, relaxing by the pool or the shore. It seems like it should be a time for playful picnics and evening parties; or maybe a time when we prepare ourselves for the rest of the year. It has always seemed that way to me at least. This idea might possibly be left over from my school days over fifty years ago, or maybe it is in my DNA, left over from my “hunters and gatherers” ancestors. It may just be my operative myth that has little historical foundation.

But everything changes, and that has been the case for us at PC.org this summer. We have been working full throttle for the last few months with several changes, and we hope it will show. Sometimes these changes even surprise us.

Our second year of Joyful Path children’s curriculum went to the printer last week and we have thankfully started shipping. Unless you are in the publishing business, you probably do not know what happens when you are facing these kinds of deadlines. People are calling anxiously to see when the 300 page curriculum will be delivered. Our retailers are calling to see when they can start taking orders. We know it is important for churches to have the material early enough in order to have time to review it with their teachers. We are scrambling along with the printer and our fulfillment people.

The staff, especially Deshna, the Project Manager, put in long hours for weeks, pouring over the “final,” final layout, always finding something that needed to be changed, sometimes noticing something that was missing or something that was misspelled. Two weeks ago at our celebration dinner that included our writers, illustrator and layout person, we passed around the review copy of the entire three hundred page curriculum. While we were toasting, one of the writers noticed that a small but important section had been dropped from one of the thirty eight lessons when a previous change had been made. We had to send everything back to the layout person and then back to another editing, while we impatiently waited for the new corrections.

It is always challenging for small organizations to take on such big projects. We are not naïve. We have done this before and will do it again. But there was a big change we had not anticipated. Our pre-orders were nearly three times as many this time as they were when we began printing the Year One curriculum. Most of the orders came in the last three weeks which overwhelmed the company doing our fulfillment.

The pressure was intense. Our staff has been working long hours, and yes, doing some gentle complaining. Frankly, at one point I was wondering if it was worth it. I was wondering if we really are doing anything worthwhile. I was wondering if we are going to at least break even on our $100,000 investment. But, at just about that time, a friend, a former Christian education director, and a scholar in her own right, told me after reviewing the new material that: “This curriculum is beautiful and is going to change the world, one child at a time, Fred.”

I knew then that it was all going to be okay. If this endeavor had a positive impact on one child, one family, one church, then it was worth everything we have gone through for the last three years, let alone the last few months. That is, after all, what we are trying to do. We admit it. We are trying to change things. We are trying to provide others with the tools and the spiritual foundation to change the world into a more compassionate and peaceful place, where the “lion is comfortable to lie down with the lamb.”

Another change is our growing partnership with Asociación Marcel Légaut, a new organization located in Madrid, Spain. This enthusiastic group has begun republishing Bishop Spong’s articles in Spanish with our copyright permission. They have entered into an agreement with HarperCollins Publishers to translate and distribute some of Bishop Spong’s books in Spanish. We see a whole new opportunity to introduce more people in another culture to progressive Christianity with the possibility of awakening them to a new way of approaching their Christian roots, and even a new way of seeing the world.

Who could have guessed a decade ago that this was even possible, let alone actually happening? This is a group of talented and forward thinking people in Spain who believe there is a future in progressive Christianity. It is an honor to partner with such exciting people as together we try to offer a new perspective on religion to people of all cultures and countries. This material will be available online and through subscriptions for Spanish speaking people all over the world. Talk about change.

And, finally, one of the most exciting shifts that we see in our future has come out of a study that was recently done by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which surveyed 2,000 adults in partnership with the Brookings Institute. The Huffington Post headline for an article about this study was: “Religious Progressives Predicted to Outnumber Conservatives, Survey Finds.” Like all headlines, this one needs a little fleshing out before we should conclude too much. There are still a lot more conservative Christians in our country than progressives. Based on this research, apparently 28% of the population consider themselves conservative, while only 19% adhere to the more progressive perspective.

However, it does tell us that progressive religion, particularly progressive Christianity, is more acceptable or meaningful to the younger generations, particularly the Millennials (18-33 years old). The average age of religious progressives is 44—just under the average age in the general population of 47—while the average age of religious conservatives is 53. And there is a nearly linear decline in the appeal of religious conservatism with age. Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI stated; “If you’re using a generational snapshot today as a proxy for the future, it is safe to say that religious progressives hold a stronger appeal among Millennials.” He then goes on to explain the result, that as conservatives age the number of progressives will eventually grow, at least as a percentage of the population.

The study also highlighted the rapid decline of religious affiliation in general, which may still be the biggest challenge that we face. Time will tell if we are capable of breaking the chains of superstitious and fear based religions and move to a more freeing and fulfilling path that Jesus and other great spiritual teachers have provided for us over the centuries. It will be interesting to see if we humans can find a faith in a path that does not demand identifying and qualifying the Infinite Mystery but rather guides us to experience of it. It is a challenging path that dissolves boundaries and separations rather than creates them. Although things are changing, the real question is will they change soon enough?

But, I must note, that this study was highlighted in national news and numerous papers all over the country. The very fact that the terms “progressive Christianity” and “progressive religion” were used without some kind of a descriptive explanation of what the writers intended was an astounding change. I wish Jim Adams, our organization’s founder were alive today so we could have a big laugh over a glass of Sherry. I doubt if he could have imagined the term he coined in 1994, for what he thought was the first time, would become so enculturated less than twenty years later. I am pretty certain it is a rapid change he could not have fathomed.

Everything changes, of course. It either evolves or dies. This is our mission: to provide the resources and tools for an “evolving faith.” We are glad we are part of a changing world, and we are proud that we are part of that change.

Review & Commentary

  • Howard Pepper

    Great to hear your news… Congratulations on year 2. And the summary of the article on the progress of Progressive Christianity is interesting and hopeful!

  • Carolyn Lamond

    I am 83 and grateful to my forward looking pastor in my youth who encouraged doubt and questioning. He felt through that process we would come to our own convictions and beliefs. I was never locked into feeling that I had to believe ONE way. So it is today that I have been able to embrace a progressive approach to believing in God or experiencing God. To me it makes so much more sense than believing in the literal interpretations of the Bible. My problem now is trying to explain to my many peers when asked where I go to church that I don’t experience God in the traditional church. They just don’t understand that. They think I am a lost soul. I tell them not to feel bad for me, that I feel grateful to experience God in the way that I do.
    It is enlightening to know that more and more people are now embracing or evolving into new ways of believing. Change is inevitable. And thank God things are changing!

    • Jackie Davey

      Glad to read your comment! You do not sound like a “lost soul” to us! We are 77 and 78 and have very similar thoughts. We have been a little impatient and sometimes have thought that change would never come about! We are experiencing God in seminars and our own small group study at home. We visit various churches, some in which we have participated, just to touch base with the people ~ but the thought process during worship has become more conservative theologically ~ regardless of denomination!

      Thanks for your message!