What shape will the world be in 5, 10, or even 25 years from now?
For the men and women who train candidates for the priesthood and the ministry, answers to that question will shape their task.
So the inter-religious faculty of the Washington Theological Consortium gathered for its annual colloquim this week with the Rev. Dr. Roger L. Shinn, of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, for soem collective crystal-gazing.
SHinn, a leading social ethicist with a growing reputation as a "futurologist" - a term he dislikes because, he says, "it makes it sound like it's exact science" - raised many questions and suggested a few answers.
Sweeping changes in society triggered by the energy crisis, the women's movement, population trends and increasing religious pluralism all would have an effect on the future shape of the church and its ministry, he suggested.
He expressed puzzlement about the effect on church life of growing numbers of ordained women. "Some church people expect a major change on styles of leadership, conceptions of authority, progressive activity in the church" as the result of more women clergy, he said. But he added that he was skeptical. "More orientation of the family to-ministry will mean an enlargement of compassion and imagination," he said. "But I remember that the women's suffrage movement did not change American politics so much as it expected: it was right on its intrinsic merits, not on its promises of favorable consequences."
The theologian predicted that the energy crisis and "the fact that petroleum will probably become unavailable as a fuel during the lives of many of you here" would cause some of the greatest changes in the future.
"Making a living will become harder," he predicted; there will be
"I hope that the feminization of the ward balancing the budget, more women working, more moonlighting." For the churches, he said, this means they "will have to face questions of social justice in a new framework."
Economic justice, he predicted, "eill require greater sharing at a real cost to the comfortable. The church will have to say so and will have to show in its own life what this means."
Shinn also raised but did not answer the question of what would happen to the subrubs as petroleum becomes scarce.
With transporation sharply limited, he suggested, church members may have to remain in their homes "accessible to master communicators of the Gospel and to master educators."
In the future, he predicted, "it will be harder to escape the troubles or our society by moving to neighborhoods distant from hot spots. It may become a nessity for a church to relate to its neighborhood, for pastors to live in promixity to congregations."
Shifts in population trends, he said, indicate that by the year 2000, there will be a great increase of persons over 65, and a decrease of those between 20 and 29.
"American churches have their greatest difficulty reaching people in the age range of 20 to 29," he said while the over-65 crowd relates more easily to a church.
The theologian predicted "increasing religious pluralism" in this country and the rest of the world.
"In the United States, the rest is likely to be far less taking it for granted that decent people are church people," he said. "Increasingly, I am guessing, people who are identifiably Christian will be regarded as a little odd."
That, he said, "may be a gain." "It will put the church a little closer to the situation of the New Testament," he said." "It will require the ministry to take less for granted, to examine its faith, to have the courage of convictions that not everybody shares."