I was privileged to meet Karen Hamilton this past week. She is the general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches. She was in Ottawa giving some speeches and meeting with various church groups.
When I saw her she gave an address to the Christian Council of the Capital Area (CCCA) about ecumenism, inter-church relations and the problem of human trafficking in Canada these days.
She told some stories illustrating how churches, to a large degree, have lost sight of their purpose and meaning. Karen lives in Toronto, so she is well acquainted with municipal politics; and we all know, Toronto has had its fair share of vibrant, local politics in the past year.
She is friends with a local, Toronto councillor who has a background in theology but is well-entrenched in the secular world. With some frustration he told Karen recently that the single-most issue over which church groups petition Toronto city hall, repeatedly, is …. can you guess?
And let me just clarify — this is not an issue only espoused by one denomination, or one particular group of Christians. This is an issue that a broad spectrum of churches go to city hall over. Any more guesses?
Parking. And, presumably parking around their properties and buildings. Are you surprised? I was. Now, it’s not to say parking doesn’t deserve some attention. But for the secular world to have this dominant picture of what Christians spend so much of their time and galvanizing energy and petitioning politicians over … parking?
You’d think the church, if it were to venture into the public realm to make a stand and petition local government, would be more interested in issues other than parking. I agree with Karen Hamilton when she says the church does have an ‘optics’ problem. What kind of witness are we bearing in the world? Are we surprised that this institution for which we care is struggling?
After reading the Gospel text for the Third Sunday in Lent (John 2:13-22) I wonder how many tables at our annual /vestry meetings Jesus would overturn if he would walk into our places of worship and see what really motivates our “Christianity”?