Excuse this rather odd post, but I've been thinking about these things quite a bit - right use of "energy slaves" as some call them, and how that affects the distribution and growth/health of the Orthodox Churches in North America.
The closest Orthodox Christian parish of any kind to me is about 15 miles away. A full day's journey or more by horse drawn wagon (there's a rather sizeable river in between). It happens to be an Old Believer community. I'm not probably welcome.
The next closest parish to me is approximately 16-17 miles. For various reasons for now I do not attend this parish, although I may in the future. My parish is approximately 35 miles away - meaning a round trip for each service of about 70 miles.
My friend/correspondent John over at Notes From a Commonplace Book used to drive, I believe, as much as two hours one way to his parish once upon a time. He can correct me if I'm wrong.
This is not unusual, especially in the West where the numbers and spacing of Orthodox parishes is spotty at best.
All of this is possible through the miracle of cheap oil - the wonder substance of the age.
While many have scoffed over the years at the idea of "peak oil" and the effects of a declining supply of oil and gas in the face of growing demand, one must sit up and pay attention when (1) the US Department of Energy commissioned an analysis, which resulted in some grim findings in 2005 (the Hirsch Report
); (2) The International Energy Agency (Paris), long resistant to ever mentioning the words "peak oil," now report in their 2010 World Energy Outlook
that crud oil production probably peaked, in fact, in 2006, while global oil production of all sorts will peak and start to fall somewhere between 2020 and 2035!; and finally, the US Joint Forces Command, a functional unified command (as opposed to geographical, such as CENTCOM or PACOM), issued it Joint Operating Environment 2010
estimate addressing future trends and risks of concern to joint force military commanders which highlighted the concerns of peak oil and growing energy demand.
Notably in the JFCOM JOE are these chilling statements:"[P]etroleum must continue to satisfy most of the demand for energy out to 2030. Assuming the most optimistic scenario for improved petroleum production through enhanced recovery means, the development of non-conventional oils (such as oil shales or tar sands) and new discoveries, petroleum production will be hard pressed to meet the expected future demand of 118 million barrels per day.
. . .
A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India. At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment. To what extent conservation measures, investments in alternative energy production, and efforts to expand petroleum production from tar sands and shale would mitigate such a period of adjustment is difficult to predict. One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest."
I will leave to the reader to consider other sources regarding these matters, and the various data that such sources provide. It is enough to say here that all that you and I take for granted - our lights, our grocery-bought food, our lovely cell phones, our drive to our parish to sing praises to our Lord, have come in the last 60-70 years, at least, from the glory of cheap oil, for which there are questionable replacements, and none of which portend that life will go on as "business as usual."
So what? So what has this to do with Orthodox North America? Well, frankly, we go to church and have parishes based on this very model of the assumption of the availability of cheap oil, enabling us to afford the cars (each new tire takes about 22 gallons
of oil to produce, a retread takes about 7 - not to mind the oil-based energy to build your car, to make the plastics in it, and the shipping energy costs to get it to the lot, maintenance it and run it) which allow us to whisk over and back to the parish.
So what happens if (some will say - when) in the not very distant future (some will say quite a bit sooner - perhaps this decade) the price to obtain the fuels and parts to provide these wonderful transportation options becomes so unrealistic that one cannot make these sorts of travels? While I don't believe cars will go away - they may become a decided luxury.
How should we order the establishment and growth of parishes to reflect these sorts of energy estimates. Or to put it another way, should we really start thinking about parishes serving a much smaller area and focusing on their local neighborhoods? What do we do for parishioners that are quite distant from their parishes - not uncommon in rural America. What resources can we start providing now to support them, and possibly help grow small Orthodox communities that may not be able to support a priest full time. Should priests start becoming circuit riders rather than parishioners converging in their cars on a central parish location?
On a personal level, I've though a lot about right use of resources in going to parish. While "conservation concerns" should not be used as an excuse for not attending church at this time, as fuels are still cheap - there is something to be said for the idea that whether or not we have abundant oil - we are quite wasteful in our culture as it relates to energy use and this does not seem to be the way in which we should be stewards of our resources. I have thought that perhaps, at minimum, I should be going to a closer parish for now and cutting half the miles traveled off, not to mention time. The other option, of course, is to move close to the parish simply to be close to the parish. This is not an option for a lot of people in some rural communities in America since, even to be "close" entails considerable distance.
Much like the local food movement and such, I think we need to really think about local parishes in future - or proto parishes. The density of Orthodox parishes, especially in the West, is so low that perhaps we need to address local small gatherings (readers services) that are supplemented perhaps by trips to the nearest parish for feast days and other opportunities. Looking to the history of the Church in Alaska may provide good instruction in how this has been done where there is low density and distant populations. Beyond that, however, is the need to have the Orthodox Church be "where you are at now" - two or more gathered and all that.
The Age of Cheap Oil is coming to an end. Whether, in decades to come, we have the sufficient investment that advances in fusion or other alternative electricity production comes along sufficient to divert fossil fuels more fully to transportation fuels and "hang on" for a while happens is unclear. But nevertheless, whatever that future, we need to sow seeds now for looking at our little local communities around us, not gathering parishioners by crossing "sea and land" for a single proselyte. The fields are close by.
There is a movement out and about, getting some air time with local governments, called the Transition Movement
. I find their model interesting, but troubling and perhaps unrealistic in some respects. However, it does provide interesting food for thought insofar as we think about how we "do church" (sorry for the cliche!), especially in the Western US, and how we might do things differently.
In all things, I do not wish here to suggest that the reason for doing these things is primarily to conserve energy. Rather, I suggest that we may find ourselves, perforce, cut off from regularly getting to those rather distant parishes for spiritual food and forced to reconsider how we are evangelizing. Perhaps we should think now how we take care of our fellows and prepare them. Perhaps in doing so, we can build a more "resilient" church and "resilient" parishioners (to borrow a Transition Movement term that's bandied about) that ensures that our brethren have the tools and resources to address such situations. In the process, perhaps also we can be better stewards of our resources, and divert saved resources of time and money to our local community, spreading the seed of the Gospel locally.
To me such as task is challenging and frightening. But perhaps it will be thrust upon us nonetheless.
Labels: Economy and Energy