A couple of weeks ago I was walking through Guildhall Square when I saw a stand next to the Walls.
I went over to find out what it was. People were giving out coffee and tea. Suddenly, someone greeted me in Irish: it was a former colleague of mine. He explained what was going on. He is a member of the Cornerstone City Church and the church was organising the open air café. It was not a campaign or a recruitment drive. Nobody was being put under any pressure: they wanted to meet people, to explain who they were and to have a chat. The church operates a number of schemes: they have built play parks at community centres on both sides of the river. They do voluntary work as ‘street pastors’ in Altnagelvin A&E and in the city centre at the weekend, giving out hot drinks, talking to people and giving them help if they require it.
I must say that the group impressed me. I belong to another tradition, but I admire their faith. They have a simple focus: the Gospel, the power of the Spirit, and Christian work in the community.
The established churches often lose their focus. Sometimes they create their own problems: Should there be women priests? Should a woman priest be a bishop? Is it better to stand or to sit during the service? Is this dreadful translation better than that dreadful translation? Does someone who has had a sex change need to be baptised again? (!)
The traditional Churches are losing out in Ireland and throughout the world because they emphasise things that are not central. There was a drop of almost two million every year in the number of Catholics in Brazil between 2000 and 2010. But during the same period there was a significant increase in the number of Evangelical Christians.