By chance, my seatmate at the O’s game last Sunday was an old guy. We bonded instantly. Old people find each other fascinating.
(I see you’re still alive. Good for you. Half my friends aren’t.)
Old people are quick to make friends. We don’t have time to be coy. Our numbers diminish daily. Our ship is sinking. There are no strangers in a lifeboat.
There aren’t many of us left who can share memories of Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Willie Mays. My new friend and I reminisce between innings, but during an inning we keep our eye on the ball, the pitcher, the batter, the catcher, the infield, the outfield, the first and third base coaches.
We’re on the edge of our seats.
My new friend sees I’ve brought four grandchildren to the game. He pats me on the back.
My granddad took me, he says.
He finds out I’m a retired minister. For the rest of the game he suggests sermon topics.
That’ll preach, won’t it?
Would have but I’m retired. I’ve got no pulpit anymore.
I ask him about his work.
I was a shoe repairman.
Really?! You can make a living repairing shoes?!
Yes. A really nice living if you own 20 stores for the repair of high-end leather boots.
I had no idea! I exclaim. Sounds like we were both in the soul repair business.
Good one! That’ll preach!
(Another pat on the back. I’m thinking he may be a bit daft.)
Then he tells me he’s Jewish but baseball is his religion and Camden Yards his church, and he’s sad because young people aren’t interested in baseball like they used to be because baseball is slow and boring, and there are more exciting, faster games like football, basketball, hockey, and soccer for young people to follow these days.
Attendance has been dropping steadily for decades, he sadly declares.
And that rang a bell. A church bell.
According to the New York Times, The Atlantic, and NPR, all across this land people are “dechurching” at accelerating rates. Some drift away. Some stomp out. There’s even a book about the phenomenon: The Great Dechurching: Who’s Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take to Bring Them Back?
A pitch clock brought fans back to baseball this year. It sped up the game by 30 minutes.
A clock won’t save the church.
See Paula’s photograph on the home page.