I attended church in Malta at the beautiful St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral in Valletta, an Anglican house of worship. It was a sad reminder of the future of Christianity in our postmodern world…or at least mainline Protestantism.
Going To Church In Malta
St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral was commissioned by Queen Adelaide (wife of King William IV) during a visit to Malta in the 19th century. She noticed there was no house of worship for Anglicans and decided one needed to be built. And it is a beauty…stepping inside there feels like you are stepping into a great cathedral in the United Kingdom.
The towering steeple and beautiful facade of the church are showing their age, but the pro-cathedral is an iconic part of the Valletta skyline.
The sad thing was that stepping into the cathedral I must have brought the average age down by half. Very few people were in attendance and those who were appeared mostly British pensioners in their 70s 0r 80s (I chatted with several after the service).
It’s true: there was construction going on around the church and it was during the summer holidays, but it stung me that there were so few people in such a magnificent place. Just blocks away, thousands of tourists streamed through the busy streets of Valletta.
During the hymns, the few voices present could not be heard over the organ, not because the organ was too loud, but because most were not even singing. The kind older lady in front of me joked that we were the only two singing Crown Him With Many Crowns. Her husband was silent.
The priest (a kind man I had a nice chat with after the service) had been flown in from London for the service and I could not even hear his mumbling during the homily and eucharist. He seemed tired and exhausted, like the congregation itself.
* * *
Theologically, I believe the church is people, followers of Jesus, not the building itself. But this beautiful building was erected to honor the One who was worshiped inside and it made me sad to see it so empty on a Sunday morning.
If I were financially independent, I would strongly consider going to divinity school and becoming a pastor. I feel my call is to work in a different way to provide for my family and sustain the local church, but my desire for truth and grappling with the mystery of the faith is something quite paramount in my life.
The Anglican Church is struggling…it is close to dividing…and we see a similar story with so many Mainline Protestant denominations. I tend to think that the ingenuity and immense progress set off in large part by the Protestant Reformation and so-called Protestant work ethic leads to atheism because it makes humans think they 1.) they are in control of their lives and that 2.) they need no deity to guide their path.
While the charismatic and Pentecostal communities of faith are growing in many parts of the world, the pews are empty in Europe and increasingly so in the United States. I guess I’m one odd bird to greatly appreciate ancient liturgy and hymns and the booming sound of an organ. It is my hope that every person I encounter walks away feeling loved and respected, but in church, I want to be challenged and convicted, not have my ears tickled.
A mostly empty church in Malta reminded me of the waning influence of Christianity in a land in which it was once so central (and yes, the Roman Catholic Cathedral was a bit more crowded, though when I peeked in during mass at St. John’s Co-Cathedral, it was also was not close to being full). While I am a strong proponent of separation between church and state, I am sad to see the waning influence of Christianity in this age.
Finally, a thank you to my friend and Christian Post contributor Dennis Lennox. He was the inspiration for my trip to Malta, directed me to the pro-cathedral, and has authored a fascinating piece on Malta that I recommend you check out.