Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, August 21, 2016

I nearly cried.


In my last post I told how Robert, a local friend of mine had been found dead.  I had once met one of his brothers who lives in another city, but did not really know his family. I heard that this brother was on his way to Dunedin.  I felt that when his brother arrived to deal with funeral arrangements, he may not know where to begin to contact the local Church. I drove past the house several times to see if he had arrived.  Finally on Tuesday morning as I left to go into town to meetings and chaplaincy work, I dropped a sheet of paper with the interim moderator's and the session clerk's phone numbers on it into the letterbox. I also had my name and number and the offer to help in any way. I expected that the interim moderator would take the funeral. Later that day my wife called at the house and met his brother. She and he rang me, and he asked if I would lead my friend's funeral. I agreed, though I knew that it would be emotionally tough. The brother came for dinner that night and we chatted about it, his memories and made necessary arrangements. I attended a St John Chaplains' conference in Wellington City for two days, and caught up with the larger family on Friday. The old Iona Church is part way through a restoration project and is seldom used. As we cleaned and prepared the church for the service and did the set up, we realised that my dead friend was the one who usually did a lot of these jobs on such an occasion.  On Saturday, in the historic Iona Church in Port Chalmers, I led his funeral. There was quite a crowd there, including at least six senior Presbyterian ministers. I was aware that my ceremony would be different than theirs, but I thought I had to be true to my approach. As I came to the end of my eulogy I found my voice cracking with emotion and was glad to hand over to family members to share their tributes. After a couple of other speakers, I safely negotiated the remainder of the service. Robert had promised to play "Finlandia" in Church for me when I next led a service, and the brother had chosen that tune for the organist to play as we led the casket out of the Church. As I walked ahead of the coffin down the Church isle listening to this tune that he and I enjoyed, I found my lip quivering with emotion and the beginnings of a sob happen. I bit my lip and carried on. As they loaded the coffin into the hearse I wanted to yell, "Bugger!"  
Today I led Sunday worship deeply aware that Robert was missing. He always appreciated what I offered. But I did feel that once again I was minister to a Church family who needed encouragement and love. 

While I was in Wellington one of my firefighters phoned my wife. He was sitting with his siblings around his mother's hospital bed and she was expected to die. Would I lead her service when the end came? First thing on Friday morning I phoned him and assured him I would. I had a long association with both him and his wife, marrying them many years ago. Later that day as I was preparing Robert's funeral I received a call telling me that she had died. A couple of hours after finishing my friend's funeral, I was once again sitting with a grieving family planning for a funeral this coming Tuesday morning. 

I am at once energised and exhausted by this ministry, that seems to follow me. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

"Bugger!" is all I can say.

to brighten the mood - spring is coming. These were on our lawn. 

Since retiring and worshipping at the little Presbyterian Church here, we have got to know a lovely, quietly spoken, gentle man who lives alone. He has been a bachelor all his life working as a draftsman. He lives with diabetes and the early stages of Parkinson's disease. 
He and I have similar theological perspectives and have often chatted about our faith journeys. Also since I am essentially a shy guy who works hard to push my boundaries, I understand and appreciate this man's quiet lack of confidence and hesitancy, that is where I come from.  We both like being bits of loners, but we have enjoyed each other's company. He has taught himself how to play the pipe organ. He designed and built a beautiful boat and had promised to take me for a ride in it. In spite of his quiet uncertainty, he was in fact, a very clever man. 

Last week he had the misfortune to discover a friend of his dead in her house. She had Alzheimers and he had lovingly kept an eye on her since her husband's death earlier this year. He would ring her each morning, and this particular morning she had not responded. When he rang us to tell us about this experience last Wednesday we invited him to come for the evening meal. We listened to him tell us what happened and reflect upon it, but we also found ourselves chatting about life easily and warmly. I was pleased because he seemed to relax in our company.
He was not at Church yesterday and I was not too worried because I knew his deceased friend's relatives would be in town and he could be busy with them. I also knew that the preacher we had for the day was not our favourite and that he may have avoided coming for that reason. At church though, others told of instances when he had been found in the beginnings of a diabetic coma. We began to be concerned because he had said that he would see us at church. We made attempts to contact him at his house where his car was still in the driveway, and by repeated phone calls. We were not able, but were not that despairing, thinking others may have visited him and taken him somewhere. We were not certain of his plans so did not feel we could call the police to break into his house.

Today we heard that they had found him dead in his house, I assume from some sort of diabetic event. I have tried to do stuff, but have found that numbing distracting feeling of grief demotivating me. Every time I have thought of him and his friendship today I have just said, "Bugger!" I have lost yet another friend out of my life. "Bugger" is the only appropriate word. I am sad. Getting old is not easy, sadness seems to be a recurring experience. Since coming home from our trip to the UK I have now lost three fellow, friendly companions on the journey of life. Bugger! 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Is NZ becoming a third world country?...and sadness again.

A third world country?
Example 1. The Night Shelter in Dunedin needs a new weekend supervisor because of the resignation of one of our guys. I have advertised in the local paper and have been emailing and sometimes sending out by "snail mail" the job descriptions and the application forms. It is the "snail mail" that annoys me. At one time when you posted a letter in Dunedin to a Dunedin address, it was sorted in Dunedin and virtually the next day, or at the most, the day after was delivered. These days it goes all the way to Christchurch, (364 Kilometres) is sorted, and brought back to Dunedin. Here these days we only receive mail on three days a week. (It used to be every day) So when I am posting these things out I am aware that the application form I post will take quite a few days to get there, and then when they post it back, it will require a few days to get back to me. Applications close next Wednesday, so it could be tricky for those relying on "snail mail". It used to be reliable, quick and easy. These days it is a relatively poor service. Are we becoming a "third world" country?
Example 2. A retired firefighter has been in hospital with very bad lung problems. He was full time on oxygen. His prospects looked very grim, and he had resigned himself to dying in the next week or so. There is a drug that could possibly help, the relevant agency in NZ has approved it, but has not purchased it. If they did it would cost heaps. It can be purchased more cheaply via India, but it will take some time to get into the country. It will not arrive in time. It somehow feels "third world". 
Example 3. My friend is spending his last days in Dunedin hospital. There has been a public outcry because the powers-that-be decided that rather than cook meals at Dunedin Hospital, the supply of meals will be contracted out and they will come from Auckland. (1061.71 Kilometres North of Dunedin.) People have reported that the meals, reheated, taste terrible and are of a poor quality. I have thought it was a daft idea flying food all that distance and was annoyed at the loss of Dunedin jobs. But I have not got too worried about the quality of meals, after all you are not in hospital very long. I visited my friend, however, and he said through his oxygen mask, "The meals are crap - the papers are right." When the meal was delivered to him last night while I was visiting he said, "I have to beat myself up to eat them." I thought - here he is, life almost gone, and he has to spend his last days eating bad quality "old" reheated food! I was thinking of ways we could bring in nice food and perhaps some wine, since he loved his wines. Are we a third world country? It feels like it is.
... In the early hours of this morning my friend sadly died. One of my jobs this week will be leading his funeral.
Trevor 
Sadness hits.
I have known my firefighter friend for nearly twenty three years. In that time he went from being a station officer to being deputy chief of Dunedin Fire Service. In all that time, even though he was not an active church man, he has been very supportive of the chaplaincy service. I have interviewed him in Church and on a radio station service. He has confided in me and pointed me toward people needing support. He was the first to get his crew assisting with our community christmas dinners. He has been a supportive presence when others thought a chaplain was not needed in a modern fire service. He called me "Skypilot" a term from his navy days. Today I have moped around grieving, feeling sad. I spend time tomorrow with his family and will later in the week, lead his funeral, but just now, I am sad. It feels like the older you get, the more often you encounter this sadness. Apart from reminding you of your own mortality (he was only three years older than I am) you realise that you are losing people who have journeyed with you.  He and I had stories to tell, history together and things to laugh about, and now he has gone. As he said in a matter of fact way when I first visited, "It happens to us all. That's life." My last words to him were that I would "Love and leave him for now and come back and see him." Sadly I was wrong. His last words to me as I left his room last night were, "Look after yourself."  I'll try Trev, I'll try.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Still going...

A team of American Students spending time at Otago University.

My opening speech. I wore many layers to keep the cold at bay.

Around midnight there was a bit of a dance party going on.
Some of the students looking attentive for the national TV slot. We made it to national TV on two channels!
Sze-En Lau Watts (Student Volunteer coordinator) David Clark (Local Member of Parliament) and me.
Both people are great people I am privileged to share with. Sze-En has a way of inspiring people to do great things.
David Clark and I were judges of the team "Forts"
The Town Hall and Cathedral in the Octagon.
A final thank you speech - "You encourage and inspire the Night Shelter Trust members. Thank you."
Student Sleep out.
Last Friday night I joined about 150 university students and some other friends and "slept out". Last year in mid winter, around 200 students slept in the Octagon, a space in the centre of the city, to raise awareness of homelessness and to raise funds for purchasing the night shelter. Then we raised $12,000 and it was fantastic. This year the students wanted to do it again and they worked on it, doing a lot of work while I was in the UK and their coordinator was also overseas. I kept up with it all via emails and through their special facebook page. It all came together and we gathered at the Octagon. We had heaps of packaging cardboard, to build ourselves forts and entertainment was lined up from 7 p.m. until about 1 a.m. A friend and I constructed a fort, but when it came to sleep in it I decided it was too cosy for two men to sleep in. I "slept" outside. There are bars all around the Octagon and they were playing loud music until after three in the morning. I don't think I got a full hour of sleep. I had to do an opening speech. Here is what I said roughly.... 
- The students planning it had said, "At this point Dave, you can tell us how much you love us." So first.. I love you all for being here.
- When I was a boy I loved climbing cliffs, and on family picnics I would go off on my own and climb a cliff near by. One time I got stuck. I was on this cliff face and every time I tried to step to get a foothold, the stones would give away under me, and would tumble down the cliff. Every time I tried to get a handhold it would give way. I was frozen there. I had run out of options, everything I tried failed, and I remember just staying there awhile petrified, not knowing what to do. Well people who come to the Night Shelter, or Phoenix lodge are often like that. They have run out of options, and struggle to get a foothold or handhold to move on in life. The money you raise tonight is going toward ways we can reach out to them, and give them a hand to take the next step. I love you for being here to help us to do that.
- I love you also because of what your presence means. Every day we hear of hatred, division and bloodshed in the world. We hear of angry people seeking to destroy others. But here in the little city of Dunedin, at the bottom of the world, there's a group of young people who are saying "No, there's a different way, the way of compassion, of care and constructive love." Thank you for taking that stand, in the face of all the evil in the world... for that I love you .... Lets have a fun night together!

And that is what we did. At 67 I was a young man sleeping out with a lot of idealistic, energetic dancing students. Snow, wind and rain had been forecast, but it was a calm but cold night. It warmed my heart to be part of it.
Back into it, maybe...
I have been approached by the Session Clerk of the local Presbyterian Church and asked if I would take a more active part in leadership there. It has been a bit frustrating and tough there. I have agreed and we are working out a way we can do it, without hurting the ministers who come to speak, or seeming to take over too much, but in a way my wife and I can help lead, give some pastoral care and help more in worship. It all has to go through the proper protocols, and it does not mean I am back into "ministry", but just able to do more than we are doing at the moment. I am excited but in some ways scared by this, but have decided that if we are going to attend the Church, this is what is needed to help it be the presence it can be in our community. Watch this space.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"It is finished!" - "Mission accomplished!"

Jesus' words from the cross were "It is finished!" There have been various understandings of the Greek word. One scholar suggested that what he was saying could be simply, "Mission accomplished!" I felt that feeling yesterday.
I came back from our overseas journey and a few days later learned that a man I knew well, who had been part of my St John chaplaincy, was in hospital with terminal cancer. I had known him at least 18 years, and journeyed with him through all sorts of experiences. I was sad about this news and from conversations I knew that many friends were visiting him in hospital, and that there the doctors were hoping to settle pain levels and send him home in the next day or so. I thought I would catch up with him when he went home. Well he went home on Tuesday and on Thursday morning, he died. It was only two and a half weeks from his original diagnosis. Yesterday I conducted his funeral. 
Do it well! Do it well! I hate/love leading funerals. I get extremely stressed because I know that it is so easy to muck up. I am also deeply aware that my faith is on show as I lead. People subconsciously, or consciously evaluate the relevance of Christianity as they see it as a minister leads a funeral. I knew that most of my friends at St John would be attending the funeral if they were not on duty. I knew too that most were not active Christians, and were even cynical about "faith". I also am devoted to ministering in such a way that the family is helped by the funeral. I am conscious that it is my job to help them celebrate the life and "being" of their loved one in a meaningful way. My task is to aid them in the grieving process and enable them to draw on the support of others and find the deep resources of love. I put a lot of effort into funerals. I listen deeply. I stew on what I am saying, I craft it and shape it and am always, always nervous about how it will go. 
My "call" 
If somebody were to ask me why I became a minister, here in short is what I would answer. I was a young plumber, attending church on Sunday, but on week days I mixed with men on building sites who never went to Church, but who often shared with me their varied life hassles. I became deeply disturbed, or "outraged" as Bernie Sanders may say. I was deeply aware that Church as I experienced it just did not speak the language of these men. What went on in Church was like irrelevant "gobbledegook" to the life issues normal people were facing. The topics, the language, the ethos was all some-how "in-house" church-culture stuff. I felt deeply that I wanted to somehow be part of bridging the gap. I was shy and wasn't sure I had the temperament to be a minister, but thought the study would help me journey, and at least make me a more useful layman in bridging the gap. I did become a minister. 
The funeral... I prepared, and worked and only slept a few hours the night before, and in the morning prepared again. So I found myself, just after midday, waiting as the funeral chapel filled up with about 350 people. (The guy was only 62) Some from my chaplaincy came in, saw me and said, "Are you doing the honours?... Oh that's good!" or words to that effect. One, a team leader came and with a grin, saw my nervousness, nudged me in the ribs and said, "Don't fuck it up!"  He knew and I knew that he was only putting into words what I was saying to myself. The funeral director, a lady who once worked at St John and is still there as a volunteer told me it was time to start, and she comforted me by rubbing my back as I set off down the isle. I led the funeral. It was a bit hard because the man was my friend too. The St John folks formed a guard of honour, and I marched out between them. I stand by the hearse as they load the coffin, and found myself standing next to the team leader, who was diligently uniformed and standing to attention. After he stood at ease and most people had past by paying their respects, I leaned toward him and quietly asked, "Well, did I fuck it up?" He grinned, patted my shoulder and said, "No you did well, you did us proud like you always do." That was the sentiment I received from so many. Some just came up and rubbed my arm, others shook my hand and said "Well done." Some hugged. I am always, always surprised that I "succeed". 
One comment, however, I really appreciated. I had started my van to leave to go to the "after match function", and this guy, a friend of the deceased, came to my window. I wound the window down and turned off the motor. "I just wanted to say you did it well." He was hesitant and struggling to express his thoughts. "My father was a Methodist minister...  I often think you guys get it wrong, its all religion and not... not... human... shall we say. ... That doesn't help these days. ... you didn't do that. You spoke our language ... you had the spirituality...it was there.. but ... you were with us. It worked for me! You said the sort of thing I think... you are a bridge! That is what you are. A bridge between the spiritual and us normal humans. Well done!" .. he stammered a few more comments trying to put into words his experience of the service.  I said, "Thank you so much... I understand." and as he went away I paused before I started the motor. My mind went back to my 1960's-70 outrage and the gap between the Church and people. (An outrage I still have) I remembered the reason I became a minister and I said quietly, "Mission accomplished!" (well for today anyway) I felt that by grace, I was fulfilling my calling. I slept well last night. 
-------------------
A further event....
I am probably boasting a bit here, but today (the day after I wrote the post above.) I received this from a retired St John Chaplain, who has been a principal of a theological college. He is a man who has been involved in St John Ambulance all his life. I had not seen him at the funeral. He says it is a "gift"... I am not sure....It simply is very hard work, at least for me, and I tend to think that we ministers often shirk that work and hide behind cliches. At least I have been guilty of that.
The email was a great encouragement. It warmed my heart.


Dear Dave,
I didn't interrupt your conversations with people after Neil's Service on Monday but I did want to say how much I appreciated the way you had woven a spiritual dimension into what I guess was authentic for Neil's family and friends.  I have noticed before your keen awareness of where people are 'at' and your ability to build around that in a sensitive and authentic way.  It is a good gift.  Thank you for that.  ..........
It was so good that you were back in time to take the service - you knew him so well from your chaplaincy.

Look forward to chatting some time.

Until then,

Peace,



Sunday, July 3, 2016

Reflecting on our Edinburgh experience.

The Discovery in Dundee. Robert Falcon Scotts Antarctic ship. 
Craigmiller Castle. I got lost in the woods exploring this. 
My son is an expert barbecue cook. The shed we built in the background. 
Leon my grandson. Great lively little man.
Arthurs Seat, the hill near the centre of Edinburgh. I got to climb it twice.
I sang little Xavier to sleep. (I am not good at "selfies") 
Walking in the Pentland Hills. How many feet have crossed this style to wear that stone down?
We walked about 20k, got lost, got wet, but had a great day. 
An apartment block in Singapore with the family washing on bamboo poles out the window.
It is a long way..
Last Thursday, after a drive on clogged roadways, we farewelled our son at Edinburgh airport, and began our journey home to NZ. It is a long journey, made longer by various incidents on the way. We boarded the plane at Edinburgh, but because they had weather hassles down London way, the plane sat on the tarmac for about three quarters of an hour. At Heathrow we found our outgoing terminal and entertained ourselves until we could board the plane for Singapore. Again because of bad weather approaching, the plane sat on the tarmac for an hour or so. By the time we arrived at Singapore we had been on the plane for nearly 15 hours. We stayed a night there, and then flew the nine hours to Christchurch, NZ. Our Christchurch based son and grandson had coffee with us at the airport, and we soon boarded our final three quarter hour flight to our home town of Dunedin. Our daughter and son-in-law picked us up and brought us home, with food purchased so that we could have our evening meal together. I fell asleep while talking after the meal, and this week have been incredibly tired, falling asleep in my chair easily. It simply is a long, long journey from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Dunedin, New Zealand.
Edinburgh city..
This has been our third visit to Edinburgh, though our first was only a day touristy visit. Edinburgh has become a second "home" to us and we quite confidently master the bus service and explore parts of town. But, being colonials, living in very different circumstances, it is quite hard to adapt. Here are some quick observations.

  • There are some lovely open spaces and parks in Edinburgh, but the density of the living is something we needed to get used to. My son lives in a house that is a modern version of Coronation Street type houses. The house is warm, compact with a small backyard and attached to the neighbouring houses. At night we could hear the neighbour's phone ringing and some of their movements. In NZ we live ten minutes drive from the centre of our city, on an acre of land, with bush around us. Most people here still live in houses with eighth to a quarter of acre of land. Driving into town for the first time upon our return, we wondered where everyone was. The crowded lifestyle of Edinburgh, the footpaths, the traffic takes a bit of getting used to, though I recognise that most people throughout the world would live in similar circumstances. We stopped off at Singapore and their apartment buildings go high into the sky.  I love the openness of Dunedin, New Zealand. 
  • I simply LOVE the history in Edinburgh. My brother and his wife came through Edinburgh while we were there and we were their tour guides for a day. I wandered around pointing to plaques on doorways, buildings and footpaths which told of the history of the place. Later I felt guilty, because I probably bored them to tears. But the history of the UK fascinates me and inspires me. For example; I read in a little museum on Cannongate in Edinburgh, of a time when only 32 of the elite Edinburgh could vote for Members of Parliament. The rest of the population were not qualified to vote. If you questioned this or protested this you were harshly treated by the judicial system of the day. But people did! And they kept challenging it in spite of the punishments and set backs, until a more just system prevailed. It is here in the UK that the society that we enjoy today, the rights we have and the freedoms we take for granted were forged. Because they stood for that which is right and fair, we today have heaps of rights, freedoms and understandings that we take for granted. We stand on their shoulders. I love the "peoples' stories" that are told in the buildings and streets of Edinburgh. In NZ we do not have such a long standing history.
  • I was sad that there seemed to be a higher proportion of the population who are addicted to smoking than in NZ. At the bus stops the tops of the rubbish bins, and falling on to the pathways beside them, there are countless cigarette butts. I thought it may well be because of the area we lived in, but up town, outside office buildings, at bus stops there seemed to be a bigger proportion of the population that smoked. It was sad to see.
  • Traveling on the city buses is an education. You hear the quite loud conversations in the scots accent. Often there seemed to be an undergirding anger, particularly in men's conversation. I think the whole situation in Europe has an impact on how people feel.  But there were delightful interludes, great little conversations with complete strangers that were pleasant surprises. In Dunbar I sat on a bar which was designed to lock your bikes to, and an older man slid alongside. "D'y'mind if I share y'seat? Growing old is a bugger!" he said, and we began a conversation, in which I learned he had worked at the Royal Mail all his life. We went into a cafe in Dalkeith, and were welcomed with, "Come in me'darlins, take a seat, what canna get ye?" We began chatting with this waitress, then her boss and others in the cafe joined in. The boss let us off 30p when we were searching for the right change, and an hour later, when we had new supplies of coins, I went in and repaid the debt. There was laughter, and lots of chit chat, with lunch time patrons wondering what was going on. They farewelled me with warmth and best wishes. In Dundee I sat on a seat in a pedestrian area of the town waiting for my shopping wife. A woman with an elderly man on her arm came along and told him to sit. "I'll be five minutes." she said. He laughed and shook his head. I joked, "I'll time you!"  So he and I were sitting there watching the world go by, waiting for our women folk, and chatting every now and then. When this woman returned, twenty minutes later, I joked that it wasn't five minutes. I then got an explanation. "The bairns are gettin' christened. Its up (somewhere I did not know) so we have't'be dressed right. So I'been shoppin' for that."  There were these delightful interludes that made us feel more at home. 
  • One thing that happened a few times, was that we were asked, "Are you from down-under?" as people recognised our accent. "Yes, New Zealand." "Well at least y'r not Australian, thank God!" Aussies do seem to have a PR problem in Scotland.
  • We attend the Augustine United Reformed Church while there and really enjoyed the ethos. It promotes a progressive christianity which we feel at home in, and is open to the LGBTQ community, and indeed has a group within it who call themselves "The Tribe." On our last Sunday there the man leading the service announced that "Jo will bring us our scripture reading." This mature person got up who was dressed and made up as a woman (tastefully) but was obviously "trans" in the way she walked. As she read her voice was more like that of a man. But she read with real passion, expression and significance. It was important to her. We had easily accepted openly gay people participating (we could tell by the partners they sat with) but this was a new experience. But the feeling I got from this experience was one of liberation. It was not a big deal. Here were people, some who were senior longstanding church goers, who simply accepted her as a person. They smiled in approval at the end of her reading, because she had done it so well. And somehow it made me feel safe. A thing went off in my inner being that said, "It is OK to be completely yourself in this Church." I felt liberated. I wish I could transplant that ethos! 
  • We so appreciated being able to spend time with the family. Daniel is our third child. We adopted him as a baby, and he is now a big Maori/Samoan man. He is a thoughtful and responsible husband and father. You need to know that for us, he is as much "our son" as any other child in our family. We hurt when he hurts, we are happy when he is happy, we are proud when he or his children do well, we worry with him when he is worried and we feel that partnership in life that parents feel with their kids. Dan and his wife Magda looked after us in their house for nearly all of our visit, (May 3rd until June 23rd) and their house is not that big. It is not always easy as adults, having parents visit for a long time, but they were great toward us. We so appreciated their hospitality, and I loved playing with my two grandchildren and working with my son on DIY projects. Saying goodbye at the airport was excruciating, it could be that we never get to see them in person again.
Taking up the reigns of life again...
While in Edinburgh I kept in touch with Night Shelter business via email on an ipad. This first week back I have had meetings, done chores, made phone calls and written emails related to the Night Shelter. I have gone back to my three chaplaincies and caught up on what has happened.  Busyness seems inevitable, and I am already thinking up new projects.  I am hopeful that with a new operations director appointed at the shelter, life will not be quite as hectic. 

I enjoyed my holiday with family, and enjoyed Edinburgh, but I love being back in New Zealand. I am a "Kiwi" through and through.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Blogging from Edinburgh - or trying.

Churches no more!
As we have moved around Edinburgh and around other towns we have visited, we have seen sometimes elaborate, big church buildings that are no longer churches. In Dunbar's Main Street there is a sad looking building with boarded up windows and warning signs not to enter. In Dundee, by the port in a back alley, there is an old stone "Seaman's Chapel" that obviously hasn't been used for decades. Around Edinburgh they are sometimes empty edifices, but often a theatre, a night club, a hostel or put to use in some other way. All these were once busy places of worship.
Why are there so many people leaving the Church in Western Society? It is interesting that with the rise of Donald Trump, and the very right wing parties in Europe, some commentators are saying that we have a "spiritual" problem, that there is a lack of moral compass in the west now. They are saying there is a loss of empathy, a wider view of humanity and compassion. But, facing this need, the Churches in general, are not holding onto their people. Of course there is the evangelical/charismatic mega churches who seem to be booming, but even here there are reports of an "open back door" where people enjoy the experience awhile, but move on. One commentator has said that these conservative groups are the "death throws, the final gasps for breath, of a dying institution." I tend to think there is truth in that.
I wonder if the "gospel" we have been proclaiming is essentially true? People were attracted to Jesus by the inner authority, intrinsic truth they recognised in the things he was saying. I wonder whether in the nature of the institution, and the dogma of the "gospel message" that intrinsic truth has been distorted, or lost? 
I wonder what attempts have honestly been made to examine the institution? Have we asked the important questions, or have we been just desperately trying to "man the pumps" without radically rethinking what a twentieth, or twenty first century spirituality would look like? 
I also think that those who have been seeking deeper answers to these questions have often been burned out, or marched out, because of a reluctance for change. Does this also point to a failure to be converted to the eternal essence that people found in Jesus, and maybe just adherence to the dogma about Jesus and the institution? As I have had time to wander, walk and think, I suspect it is this inner essence that is missing, that people actually long for and respond to. I will do more thinking and probably burble some more on this.