By Jean Clark
There are 53 retired clergy/chaplains among other retirees, representing 10 different denominations living in Uplands Village at the present time. Besides the ordained clergy, there are ministers’ wives, missionaries and others who have had professions in the church. Although Uplands has ties with the United Church of Christ, that is by no means a criteria for becoming a member here. And certainly those of us who have not spent our careers in a religious setting feel quite comfortable in their midst and learn a great deal from studies, discussions and conversations about those who have.
Dr. Carol E. Lytch, president of Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, was drawn to visit Pleasant Hill because of stories expounding the wonders of the Tennessee Cumberland Plateau from Lancaster alumni. Eleven Uplands’ residents graduated from and even taught at Lancaster Seminary.
Dr. Lytch began as the 11th president of Lancaster Theological Seminary Aug. 15, 2012. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) with standing in Donegal Presbytery. Early in her career, Dr. Lytch served as co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Cranbury, NJ, with her husband. Before coming to Lancaster Seminary, Dr. Lytch served as assistant executive director of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the accrediting agency for theological schools in United States and Canada. Prior to her work with ATS, she was coordinator of the Lilly Endowment’s Program for Strengthening Congregational Leadership. She was also visiting scholar and researcher-in-residence at Louisville (KY) Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
During her visit to Pleasant Hill this month, along with the Rev. Paul Eyer, director of alumni and church relations, she spoke to a large gathering in the Community House on Saturday and preached in the Pleasant Hill Community Church, United Church of Christ that Sunday. The Saturday topic was a thought provoking discussion of the “Opportunities and Challenges of the Mainline Protestant Witness in These Times.” Much to everyone’s surprise, she showed that Christianity is growing worldwide, especially in Africa, the far East and South America.
In the United States, although 83 percent profess to have a religious affiliation, only 40 percent actually attend services weekly. Attendance at all religious institutions has been going down since 1972. What is new here is the fluidity of the religious landscape. Americans don’t always stay with the denomination or religious affiliation that they were born into. The churches that are growing are at the extreme ends of the spectrum — conservative 39 percent and liberal 35 percent. Members of mainline protestant religions are having fewer children and don’t attend church as often as they used to. There is a growing secularism, increasing pluralism and acceptance of other religions. The “nones” (no religious affiliation) often profess to be spiritual and favor the organized religious communities’ outreach and caring for the poor and hungry.
The good news for mainline Protestant churches is their success in building community and settling conflicts. They need to find a new balance, become more fluid, multiracial and multifaith, while blurring the boundaries between the ordained and lay members. Religious institutions are still needed to accomplish good in a collaborative way.
A prime example of that collaboration was last week’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Palace Theatre in Crossville. Christians for Justice and Peace, an ecumenical group, sponsored the event, taking an offering to support the social justice advocacy group, Crossville for Solidarity Action. Before the event, a volunteer fair of 13 nonprofit organizations, sponsored by the Celebrating Diversity Council, showed the numerous ways people can become involved in Cumberland County.