What it’s like in the former industrial heartland

Current Affairs / Peak Oil / Religion

James Kunstler writes a weekly column reporting on what he forsees as the western economy’s coming collapse and the effect it will have on the United States.

This week, as the news of the collapse of General Motors is highlighted on the hour, he writes of a recent trip to western and northern New York state:

“You get into these far reaches of upstate New York and your senses report that you have entered something like an HP Lovecraft story, where the sun comes up twenty minutes late, and the magnetic poles are not where they’re supposed to be, and the few remaining denizens of the towns all have eleven fingers…. Even though I’ve seen plenty of desolation like it in other parts of the country — the back roads of Ohio, the Mississippi River towns of the upper Midwest, the morbid stretch of blue highway between Memphis and Little Rock — I’ve never encountered a landscape so shattered by the mere ravages of economic fate.

The most striking feature is how all the things once so ‘modern,’ all the roadside business enterprises designed along ‘space age’ motifs — the car dealerships with boomerang-shaped signs, the rocket-ship-style food huts, the schools that look like atomic power installations — all teeter now in sublime decrepitude. The reversal of spirit from childlike exuberance of the 1960s to the senile sclerosis of today said everything about where America is at. Much of what existed before the space age is not even there anymore, bulldozed decades ago in our haste to erase pre-drive-in living, as if it branded us a lower life-form than, say, our arch-enemy, the Soviets.  I’ve wondered for many years what Modernism would be like when time finally passed it by, when it was no longer the sole thing it declared itself to be, up-to-date — and there it was smeared all over the landscape like so much road kill.”

Read the full article here.

Having lived and worked in parts of PA very much like northern New York, this description rings true to me. I was told years ago that PA, once the powerhouse of the Industrial revolution, is now the state with the highest number of people living in rural zip codes. In other words, it’s becoming a farming state once again. (Which isn’t a bad thing – the coast needs to eat, and PA has excellent farm land an easy short haul a way.)

I’ve been thinking about the effect this level of disruption is going to have on churches for a long while. I had hoped that it was going to be a truly pressing problem in a few more decades, but it appears that the future is now upon us.

There’s a great deal of hope for the Church I think, but it’s going to require people to think carefully about how to use the increasingly scarce resource of seminary trained clergy, and increase the role of the volunteer lay person in supporting the work of the community. Total Ministry is one model, and there’s a great deal to learn from it.

But I’m not aware of many congregations that have managed to grow using that model – it feels to me more like a way of trying to forestall an inevitable collapse than it does a new model to evangelize the world.

I’m thinking it might be worth having a conversation here about different models that might be created to try to transition ministry from the old pastoral model to a newer model that uses all the resources at hand – big churches, program style churches, missions and cell groups to rejigger our parish ministry model.

Any interest?

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Interestingly enough Derek, we’re having exactly that discussion here right now. We’ve already begun to create an informal curriculum for clergy in the process of transferring in from other denominations that’s done here at the Cathedral in Phoenix, plus we’re the center for diaconal training for our diocese and some others in the Southwest.
    Thanks for reminding me of your thoughts. I think we’ll be in touch. Grin.

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