Church and Main
Church and Main
The Most Memorable Episodes of 2023

The Most Memorable Episodes of 2023

Here are the episodes you should listen to again...or for the first time.

No transcript...

You can also listen to this essay as a podcast by pressing play below.

2023 is almost over and on many levels, I will be glad on a personal note to see it go. As some of you know my mother had a stroke in July of this year. They say the first year of stroke recovery can be a challenge and that has been the case. The upside is that my Mom is resilient through all the ups and downs and we got to celebrate her turning 90 this month. Here’s hoping 2024 is better for her, myself, and my husband who has been a saint through all of this.

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When it comes to the podcast, I was going to try to do a published episode of the Best of 2023 (and I might still do it, but don’t wait for it), but taking care of Mom and pastoring a church during Advent kind of take precedent. So, you are getting this post with links to those episodes. Let’s get started.

In February 2023 I interviewed Ben Crosby, an Episcopal priest studying in Montreal.  He wrote on his Substack about how it seems quite common for leaders in Mainline Protestant denominations to be in denial about the ongoing decline in their midst.  Instead, we get a lot of happy talk about “how God is doing a new thing” as our churches close and our denominations shrink. Ben’s words were words of assurance because I realized I wasn’t going crazy.  There are a lot of people out there who love to do nothing but make fun of mainline decline or shake their heads about the sad state of this tradition.  Ben’s essay and his interview show that some still care about the tradition and I was glad to have had the chance to talk to him and hope to do so again.

While 2023 might have been another year more Mainline Protestant churches end up closing and the tradition as a whole keeps shrinking, there are still signs of vibrancy. In March, I chatted with Dawn Darwin Weeks, one of the pastors of Connection Christian Church in Odessa, TX.  Connection started as First Christian Odessa, but they sold their building, moved, and got a new name.  Dawn talked about the journey which is summed up in her book, “Breakthrough.”  After hearing about churches closing in our denomination of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), it was good to hear of a story of a church that was being renewed by listening to the Holy Spirit. 

In October I had the opportunity to chat with Grayhame Bowcott a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada who helped bring a closed congregation back from the dead.  The impetus came from a story in the Anglican Journal about how the congregation went from six miserable Anglicans to a thriving congregation that made an impact in its rural Ontario community.

In the 19th century, it wasn’t that unusual in some traditions for laypeople to help start churches. These days, it is more common to see churches started by pastors. However, there are still examples of the laity starting new communities of faith. My interview last fall with Laura Cottington of St. Michael Community Church in St. Michael, MN about lay-led church planting reminded me you didn’t need to be a pastor to plant a church, but you do need a heart for mission.

The last interview I did for the year with Paul Moore is about a pastor who is passionate about local church ministry and is trying to find a way with his congregation to reverse decades of denominational decline.  We talked about why denominations like the Presbyterian Church (USA) haven’t done anything to stem the decline but also what he’s doing by hiring staff that will work on children and families.

As an African American, I want to do more episodes on race, but I’ve hesitated because I feel like I don’t fit in with the modern ethos that emphasizes antiracism.  I also don’t fit with those who try to downplay or even ignore race.  That’s why I was so thankful to talk to George Yancey earlier this year about a third approach, mutual accountability.  While we don’t live in an era like Jim Crow, there are still issues that can be called racial issues. We have come a long way as a nation when it comes to race and we still have a ways to go.  I hope in 2024 to talk to other thinkers on this issue that aren’t tied to either the antiracist or colorblind camps.

One of the things I remember from my interview with Seth Perry is how church members can understand pastors who struggle with addiction but don’t understand pastors who deal with mental illness. In my interview with Seth, we talked about his journey with bipolar disorder and his decision to “come out” and be honest about his mental illness. This was a difficult interview, not because of the topic, but because I had to do the interview three times due to recording issues. Seth was incredibly patient and for that I am thankful.

Late last year, I started reading Church and Crisis of Decline by Andrew Root. There aren’t many books that can make me look at faith differently, but this one did. It blew my mind. I had to get Andrew in the show and I was so happy when he was able to do so last spring. He’s a delightful person and I want to have him back on the podcast again.

The final two episodes focus on the aftermath of October 7 and the massacre of Israelis by Hamas terrorists. I chatted with Rabbi Brad Hirschfield about having hope in the wake of such madness. Rabbi Brad exuded incredibly meaningful joy even in the face of such horror. He didn’t ignore October 7, but Hamas didn’t steal his hope.

Finally, I was interested in how the leaders of Mainline Protestant Churches tend to not be so evenhanded when it comes to Israel/Palestine. In November, I chatted with Todd Stavrakos about how Mainline Churches have been biased against Israel and how that hurts our relationship with Jews in America.

There are several other episodes to listen to and just because they aren’t listed here doesn’t mean they were terrible! These are just the ones that were memorable to me.

What comes in 2024? Hopefully more episodes on those pockets of growth with Mainline Protestant churches. I’d like to do something on religion and the election and also how Christians should respond to some of the horrible messages coming from Donald Trump as he runs for President yet again. I’ve been wanting to do an episode on the working class and churches for years now and I hope to find someone to talk to about this in 2024. I want to talk about Canada’s MAiD law which allows assisted death. What should the church say about that? What is the church in Canada saying (or not saying)?

Finally, I want to say thanks to all those who listened to the podcast and especially those who donated. It means a lot to have people who have supported this crazy dream of starting a podcast.

May God be with us all in the coming year and be on the lookout for more episodes!

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Church and Main is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Church and Main
Church and Main
Church and Main is a podcast at the intersection of faith and modern life. Join Pastor Dennis Sanders as he shares the stories of faith interacting with the ever-changing world of the 21st century.