Dumbledore is Dead: The Death of Mainline Denominations
Mainline denominations are not dead. They may be dying. At the very least the way they once were, the way we have known them for the last 100 years, is dead. So why do we keep looking to them for answers to the challenges we now face? Why do we keep expecting that they will somehow roar back and save us?
Clergy waste so much time lamenting the state of their denominations. It’s exhausting and fruitless. And I'm beginning to think that it says more about clergy than about the denomination.
Could the problem be that we are looking for something that they simply can no longer provide? Could it be that find it easier to lament and blame the denomination than to create our own solutions?
Dumbledore Is Dead
Recently our family had a Harry Potter movie marathon. It took me back to the most poignant moment in the series for me: when (spoiler alert) Dumbledore dies at the end of book six, The Half-Blood Prince. It was a shocking moment for such a beloved character to die. Dumbledore can't die, I thought. He's too powerful. Too smart. He is irreplaceable. And Harry still needs his help.
When I opened The Deathly Hallows I fully expected Dumbledore to return in some kind of resurrection, but he doesn't. Harry has to face Lord Voldemort without him. It seems that's pretty well where we are on the mainline these days. Budget cuts and a slow to change model of corporate church have rendered denominations obsolete in many ways. Yet, we keep looking for them to the same leadership, resources, and support. And we keep complaining that we aren't getting it.
Dumbledore is dead. Why are we still waiting for him to reappear? Why are we looking to the past to meet the challenges of the future? Why are we placing the responsibility for figuring it out on institutions we say are dying rather than ourselves?
Harry (and Friends)
If the way mainline denominations as we have known them are dead, where are we to look for leadership? Much like the way leadership in the magical world shifted from the ancient Dumbledore to 18 year-old Harry and friends - leadership in the church is changing. We are already seeing leadership emerge at the grass roots level, sometimes in unlikely places - leadership that cuts across age, geography, lay and clerical.
Often standing on the margins of the institution, often with the support of the institution, they have the freedom to invent or reinvent our faith communities - and social media is giving them a platform to share that work and let us all learn from it. Increasingly, the leadership and resources we seek aren't going to be found within vertical denominational structures, dioceses, or synods. It's going to be found in horizontal, digitally enabled relationships and connections, between clergy and lay people of all sorts of beliefs, practices, and denominations.
This is not to say denominations have no role. After all, Dumbledore gave Harry an education, he shared his memories in the pensieve, he started him on a path of horcruxes, he set Harry within a community of friends and compatriots.
Dumbledore's life continued to inspire and propel Harry to his showdown with Voldemort. Just as Harry and his friends had to figure out what the future, magic, Hogwarts, would look like without Dumbledore, so we have to figure out what the death of denominations, at least as they once were, means for our faith and tradition.
Like Harry and his friends, the answers do not lie with a deceased headmaster, but deep within our own minds and hearts.