Depressing: Attending Church In Malta – Live and Let's Fly

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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.
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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.
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Matthew is an avid traveler who calls Los Angeles home. Each year he travels more than 200,000 miles by air and has visited more than 135 countries. Working both in the aviation industry and as a travel consultant, Matthew has been featured in major media outlets around the world and uses his Live and Let’s Fly blog to share the latest news in the airline industry, commentary on frequent flyer programs, and detailed reports of his worldwide travel.
I was raised and a devout Christian for many years, and while I am now an agnostic atheist, I still attend church at least 2x monthly, and always try to attend while traveling. When I was on an assignment in New Zealand I would attend daily afternoon Eucharist and St. Paul’s cathedral, and while I didn’t participate in the Eucharist due to my current believes, I went to feel the peace of the location, and a chance to refocus on the values that I was raised with in Christianity. That cathedral was a place of peace and refuge for me. I love Anglican cathedrals, the welcoming people, and the comfort of the familiar, but like you, I’m sad that often it was only me and handful of others present.
While I understand from personal experience why people leave belief, the loss of community is perhaps a greater loss to me. Unfortunately, there is something of a cyclical effect, where as people leave, fewer people have friends, and fewer people want to attend. Our current church focuses heavily on values, rather than dogma, and we’ve grown slowly but steadily over the last couple of years, but I feel a sense of sadness when I visit these beautiful places of worship that are so sparsely attended.
“Very few people were in attendance and those who were appeared mostly British pensioners in their 70s 0r 80s (I chased with several after the service).”
What were you all chasing? Did you catch it?
Ha. Fixed.
Nice review of this church. I always enjoy reading your blog.
You make some valid points however the Anglican Church is suffering declining numbers and a major split due to non-biblical gender and sexual sin issues. The Methodist and other denominations are doing this as well with LGBT pastors and affirming sin as OK.
Church attendance or even traditional, biblical marriage is declining in Europe as the vast populations embrace socialism and leave God. It’s not because they are Catholic or Protestant. In fact, Catholic numbers are way down as well.
I don’t feel that reformed religions are to blame for church attendance. Postmodern theology is weak in general. Even churches that pull vast numbers of people fail to keep them engaged in the church as it’s all milk and no meat. The plain truth is that Jesus died for your (our) sins. He didn’t require a priest to say so or a praise band to help him along the way to the cross. The traditional churches of the past 75 years fooled many with false teachings along the way as people injected non-biblical beliefs such as being gay isn’t a sin, Sex outside marriage is OK, etc. Prosperity preaching, private jets, child abuse, and such have also pushed people away. I’m sure Satan just loves that stuff.
From a purely logistical standpoint, I think many historic churches in Europe suffer from location. They aren’t easy to get to for the vast population (in some cases), no parking or transportation options and they end up being left with older members that have stayed in the city center. It is sad to see declines in membership at these old churches but even if you go to services (for members) in Israel you see low attendance at times.
I would also remind you that if you are being called to be a pastor, money, time or any earthly thing is no barrier for God. Also being a pastor isn’t required to spread the word and way of God.
Jesus loves you and me 🙂
I didn’t want to get into the reasons for the Anglican (and Methodist) splits, but you are right that there are theological issues deeply dividing these communions. At the same time, I think there is a greater idea of self-sufficiency that is having an adverse impact on churches of all stripes in the developed world.
I certainly do agree with your last point and exercise that role as a deacon at my church – my point was not that I sometimes feel the call to be a pastor, but I do not feel the call to be a full-time pastor who must rely upon the charity of others for survival (yes, God’s Providence, but practically dispensed through the charity of others). I would love a MDiv or PHD in theology and to study Hebrew and Greek, but that is something that is not for this season and I need no formal seminary education to spread the good news. My most important ministry is to my own family and that must be my primary focus at this point.
Regarding your most important ministry, and to remembering Judges 2:10. Good on you Matt!
As someone with a PhD in theology (obviously studying Greek and Hebrew), if you aren’t going to engage in academic scholarship and teaching, the PhD is a much too expensive hobby 😉 The work focuses on engaging in this area.
The MDiv, however, can be done part time, at a somewhat reasonable cost, the courses are interesting, etc. I did it while working at NASA JSC in Houston.
@ Matthew, @DaninMCI
As a born again Christian, I appreciate both your view points. Blessings.
Lovely church. In some ways it is sad that the service was so poorly attended. I say in some ways because attendance is obviously optional and I believe that’s as it should be.
I do see a paradox in your take on Atheism though. If God is in control of people’s lives and people become Atheists then that by definition is what God wills.
While delving deeply into religion on a travel blog can be a tricky business and I’m probably opening Pandora’s Box here I’d be interested in hearing your take sometime on religion in theory vs. practice the modern world and is it possible to reconcile the two. For instance, how to reconcile the “Gospel of Prosperity” with Jesus saying the diametrical opposite. Or Jesus being considered weak by some so called Christians (no pun intended) these days. I’m not hunting for hypocrisy, I’m trying to see if it’s even possible to reconcile these and other issues or just give up and say haters gotta hate regardless of what they call themselves.
If God is in control of people’s lives and people become Atheists then that by definition is what God wills.
I think there is a difference between God’s will and His sovereignty. God may be sovereign over creation, but in the exercise of that sovereignty, God chooses to turn humans over to the desires of their heart, which is part of God’s plan to show His glory and bring the redeemed human race back into communion with Him.
For instance, how to reconcile the “Gospel of Prosperity” with Jesus saying the diametrical opposite. Or Jesus being considered weak by some so called Christians (no pun intended) these days. I’m not hunting for hypocrisy, I’m trying to see if it’s even possible to reconcile these and other issues or just give up and say haters gotta hate regardless of what they call themselves.
The prosperity fraudsters have a laundry list of scripture they can quote out of context. But indeed, Jesus did say the opposite: anyone who genuinely seeks to understand the words ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth (or St. Peter, James, or Paul) must conclude that the pursuit of wealth will lead to emptiness. Only the pursuit of holiness (being separate or set apart) will lead to satisfaction and that’s not a battle we can fight ourselves – we need God’s help for that, starting with the realization that we are unable to save ourselves.
Hope that lends some color to what you were asking. Happy to continue to engage.
While I’m still fuzzy on things that’s due to my ecumenical shortcomings rather than your explanation. I did learn and that’s good enough for me for the moment. Thanks for the detailed reply.
In South America one can see almost the opposite . . . Evangelical Protestant congregations taking lots of people from Catholic Churches. I can say that at least in Brazil one will rarely find more than a few old ladies at Mass, but Evangelical churches are growing very quickly and packed on Sundays. This is part of long term demographic shift wherein middle and upper classes have become much less religious and abandoned the Catholic Church en masse, while the underclass now makes up the largest group of religious people and finds a home almost exclusively in the Evangelical churches. Sexual scandals in the Church have no doubt played a role as well. This is probably true to a greater or lesser extent throughout South and Central America and is having large political and other sociological implications.
Yes, the stupid people that give a % of their income to Evangelical churches and are brainwashed by crook pastors are famous in Brazil. Don’t agree the Catholic Churches are empty there at all there but agree many stupid people decided to make pastors rich.
Odd blog but if you want to talk about theology…I think your hypothesis of “so-called Protestant work ethic leads to atheism” is an odd and I think flawed idea. First off the Protestant Reformation predates the rise of atheism by centuries. There are innumerable other factors that developed that would better explain the rise of atheism. Second, the essence of the Protestant work ethic is not self-reliance but that the laity’s secular work is just as meaningful and important as the clergy’s work in honoring God (1Cor 10:31, Ephesians 6:7). Since salvation is by faith alone through grace alone, it helped to explain the enduring importance of working well to honor God.
On a micro-basis, you are quite correct about the premise and understanding of the Protestant Work Ethic. But I do think it led to the Industrial Revolution and such a meaningful improvement in quality of living that many began to question any need for a God when societal advancement could be alternatively viewed as the source of progress without the judgment.
Lord, save me from your followers!
Pretty off travel topic and it invites hurtful comments unrelated to travel. Otherwise I’d skip commenting at All And this in no way distracts from the obvious love for your neighbor that shines through your posts
It amazes me that with a huge central focus on God’s Love in the Bible, tradition, experience, and reason, most self professed christians ignore the love and go for the evil and judgement. Why can’t the Love of God save all? Are you putting limits on God?
Jesus said love your neighbor and nothing about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or queer people. It’s seems so obvious and easy to love and to work for the betterment of all humanity and the earth.
Just a thought, not a sermon
The decline of American society into crime, corruption, and mayhem is directly related to the diminishing practice of Christianity in America. However, America could never be a completely Christian country because national governments are, by their very nature, not Christian. I say this because the hungry person in Mali and Haiti has the same need for food and work as the person in New York and Iowa. The need for visa and immigration controls are very understandable and needed for national integrity but are not Christian. Christ would not say “that widow gets no food aid for she is from Yemen or South Sudan”. So I support government based mostly on Christian principles but also is based on nationalism. (not white nationalism but nationalism)
“The decline of American society into crime, corruption, and mayhem is directly related to the diminishing practice of Christianity in America.”
Maybe nothing too with the diminishing practice of Christianity? It isn’t as much of an issue in Europe. And some countries that never had Christianity as a major religion – like Japan – don’t have the same issues either.
This seems an exceptionally silly view because Northern Europe has few or none of the social ills that the USA has, but is even less religious. Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, China, are all completely safe, highly educated, have almost no social ills, and could hardly be considered “Christian” nations” either now or in the past. Putting to one side that correlation is not the same as causation, it’s not at all clear to me that there is any correlation between Christianity and the societal values you seem to want . . . and it could be that the opposite is true (Nigeria, Ghana, Honduras, Mexico, etc. are all places of great religiosity).
You peeked in, not peaked in 🙂
Traditional places of worship for mainline religious institutions and old religious institutions tend to be way less busy nowadays than they used to be. Such places are increasingly seen as places for old people, fearful people and for major life events and/or holidays but not for much more than that — if even that — most of the time.
But is this exactly a new phenomenon, or perhaps this kind of dynamic waxes and wanes within societies over time as religiosity or a religion goes in or out of favor. People have been ditching gods — and even places of worships — for thousands of years, and not always related to violent overthrowing/displacement from the start.
2 Timothy 4:1-5
4 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[a] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
I went to St Stephens in Vienna and the Barcelona Cathedral before that, and while they were not nearly as empty on a Sunday like yours on the pics, the demographics trend very, -very- old. Also, I would have joined the singing but alas, can’t sing in German/Catalan. The mass had cantors, though.
Depressing: Attending Church
The empty churches could be repurposed as homeless shelters. What would Jesus do?
It’s actually an interesting theory. Perhaps better than turning churches into bars and night clubs, as we see in other parts of Europe.
One day I’d love to buy an old church and turn it into my home, though leave the organ operational.
A great way to creep out more-or-less unwanted guests in kind of a Phantom Of The Opera way.
Would you invite me over to play your organ?
He’d probably need some decorating advice, with such a large space to cover. Flowers are always a good start. And I think the only thing better than seeing a rose on his piano would be seeing tulips on his organ.
Don’t forget the Lufthansa ducks and KLM houses!
@Roger: Which organ would that be? 😉
Not just Europe. I used to live in Bentonville AR, in the heart of the Bible belt, and my favorite bar in town was in an old church!
Ha, this made me think of the classic Pink Panther film with Peter Sellers, where the insane Chief Inspector Dreyfus occupies a chateau with a huge church organ and is seen playing the organ before making his ransom demand to the world (“Bring me Clouseau”) .
This blog is becoming less about travel and more about religion.
Sure, it’s your own and you can do whatever you want with it but I, for one, hate having religion shoved down my throat under the guise of travel.
Brand it as Christian travel blog so that people know what they’re getting when they click on your links and support you, isn’t being honest a part of it all?
The one good thing here is seeing religion slowly die out, and it’s all thanks to the behavior of religious people that younger generations have lost interest.
Consider what a profound level of intolerance you are expressing and how objectively few posts here delve into religion. Like what, 1/100? So now it is a religion blog?
A profound level of intolerance that’s well-deserved, it’s not like Christianity is this bastion of tolerance and acceptance, gone are the days when people had “tolerate” abuse.
The world is better off without religion and I don’t care about tolerating an exclusionary, oppressive belief system with many victims as a results.
I’m sorry if you have been hurt by Christianity or organized religion, but statements like “the world is better off without religion” strike me as more emotional reactions than anything rooted in logic.
Kinda rich calling my statement emotional when you believe in a fairytale being who’s responsible for all the suffering in the world, but sure buddy you’re the logical one here, keep praying alone in your empty churches.
I was referring to your claim that “the world is better off without religion.” Perhaps you can explain why, beyond a trite talking point, that is true. You think secular organizations or governments would fill all the charity void? You don’t see the good that more enlightened understandings of Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths have achieved?
@Icarus: Pretty harsh words. If you feel so strongly, why not avoid posts that mention church in the headline?
When they stop being up in everybody else’s business, demonizing whole swaths of people for daring to be different, taking away rights, compounding other people’s suffering just to appease an imaginary man in the sky, then I’ll stop clicking the links and go live my life freely the way I’d like to.
You think that is what Christianity is all about?
And….how do you suppose all of creation – and YOU – got here without a Creator?
Hi Matthew,
I went to Seminary when I turned 50. It’s taken me a few years but I’ll graduate this fall and I don’t regret a moment of it. If you’re thinking about it, I’d encourage you in it. Thanks.
There is a place for church and that’s for providing a welcoming community SUPPORT system. But… A pastor whom flies first class.. it sounds like you might be made for the new American church’s popping up these days . I understand this is right in line with the club 404 philosophy and certainly the new evangelical philosophy… pastors live in mansions, fly private and don’t pay taxes. To each their own, the law allows it, but that’s not the type of community support church I see true community value in. Maybe the only way for a church to succeed these days is to peddle politics in our polarized society and thus better enrich the ones at the top. That seems to work so well in American churches.
Lastly, I’m surprised to see virtually no comments here in opposition on such a controversial topic. I have been respectful, and critical and frank, yet tong and cheek. let’s not suppress all opposing ideas to your values if they are presented without going below the belt.
Respect my voice pastor, as a reader (aka member of your travel congregation) by posting my opinion to your comment in this church of travel.
Don`t worry it will be worse. But new mosque built in EU will be full. R.I.P. Europe.
Correct me if i am wrong with ongoing unstoppable invasion .
Oh look American companies supplying equipment to Russia. But crickets from Matt.
Leaders should be jailed and enslaved into hard labor.
On another note, what’s up your boy ordering the hit in Canada?
8th amendment, dawg!!
And 13th… holy moly!
13th allows for slavery as a criminal penalty! Nothing cruel and unusual about what is prescribed in the Constitution itself.
Interesting! I didn’t realize that. Sounds like something that could be up for a modern day interpretation but the current SCOTUS would probably just overturn the 13th altogether.
Certainly not a fan of the BJP and PM Modi, but interestingly enough even the main opposition Congress party / I.N.D.I.A party are supporting the government’s stance. This is New India – unashamed and will not back down regardless of the consequences.
If the GoI are behind the assassination, one has to question the violation of another nation’s sovereignty. Of course, this is no different than the various assassinations that all intelligence agencies orchestrate.
I think a clear presentation of the facts are required before nations jump to conclusions.
@747always – not sure that the Guardian article has to do with a Travel Blog. Btw, it is Matthew’s blog, so Matthew can choose to write anything he desires.
1) In recent decades, the Anglican church has pursued “progressive” policies/stances in an attempt to be seen as modern and (what is now referred to as woke) in a misguided attempt to attract a more “modern” group of parisheners. That has failed, as the Anglican/Episcopal church is irrelevant to people with secular beliefs anyhow. And it has turned many others off, who are looking for religious instiutions to be, well, religious.
2) It’s the Anglican church (Episcopal in the USA) and thus it’s base followers would be from the UK, Canada and Australia as well as the US. The first three have become overwhelmingly secular and non-religious. And, the areas where Episcopalian followers are in the US are the same. Protestants in the US who want more conservative religious vibes would tend to attend Baptist services or go for a mega-church deal. Both are doing fine in attendance, btw.
2) Malta is an overwhelmingly Catholic nation. Most Anglicans attending services there would tend to be retirees (pensioners) or (mostly elderly) British vacationers anyhow.
I definitely see religion and travel overlapping. I’ve visited almost 120 countries and the story—i.e., the history—of those countries are always interlaced with their religious beliefs. Culture, art, music, wars, human rights, human rights abuse, infrastructure, everything!
In many places, the only ancient art that exists is religious in it’s subject matter. I don’t have to believe in any or all of the religions, but I do need to understand how the artists’ religious beliefs gave rise to the magnificent displays and architecture before my eyes. Otherwise, I would do better, and save a lot of money, if I simply stayed and aged in place at home while looking at AI-generated art spit out by a microprocessor. Who needs to even think about what other human beings journeyed and suffered through if you can just stare at a flat screen monitor? Maybe add a tread mill!. What a great way to spend what’s left of your life so that you can avoid having to interact with religion at all!
I’m in an interesting boat here. I’m pretty opposed to organized religion. However, without subscribing to any religion myself, I absolutely love observing and engaging with so many of the rituals and practices. It’s fascinating to me on so many levels – and the connection to our history is undeniable, whatever one personally believes (or not). I have attended services and functions all over the world across so many religions and sects. While I would not bemoan the end of organized religion, life would be lesser for me without the existence of all the associated artefacts.
I realize I’m a complete contradiction, but it was amusing to me that I agree with your lament while having a significantly opposed view on religion in general (e.g. I firmly believe we need more people to recognize that they are indeed in control of their lives, outside of the actions other people take to prevent them from actually exercising that control).
btw, have attended a couple of services in Malta and saw something similar at the Anglican Church. Catholic Mass was a bit different! Malta is a home for retired British expats, and as AngryFlier pointed out, that both defines and skews the Anglican population accordingly.
Given this convergence of topics, the key question at hand has got to be “WWJS???” Where would Jesus sit? Basic economy? Economy plus? Business? or (. . . I’m guessing against) full-fare First???
When I was in college, I attended church every Sunday just as I had at home. I loved having that natural community despite being 500 miles away from my family. One day after church, I was told by a church leader that she was concerned for my salvation because I was gay, could not marry in the church, and this would lead to a loss of communion and thus salvation. I hadn’t been showing up at church wearing a rainbow suit, but it had simply never occurred to me that I should lie when people asked if I had a girlfriend. In my home parish, I had been taught that God would never have created me in a way that was somehow destined for sin, and now I was being told that the only possibility of communion with God was to deny the biology of how I had been created.
Matthew, the Church is in decline because far too many of us have been hurt by those who pretend to act in the name of God. We live in a world where so-called “Christians” in positions of power work to legally enshrine the right to discriminate based on the doctrines of their faith while labeling efforts to harness the power of the government feed the hungry, heal the sick, and provide shelter to the homeless as “godless socialism.” For far too long the institutions of Christianity have been missing the forest for the trees, and so people have left these institutions. My greatest wish is that everyone about to quote their favorite part of Lev or Deut as justification for their hate would instead consider what they have done to follow the two greatest commandments of God.
Sad to see, but what you witnessed and are witnessing across the globe was foretold…
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14.
Organ stuff I like includes anything widor but my favorite would be Saint Saen’s organ symphony (no3). Also i have been known to put on repeat the Dupre transcribed organ version of bach’s cantata no29. a long time ago i bought a CD “encores a la francaise” (michael murray on the organ at boston) and to this day i listen to it. then if you like modern stuff there is always like poulenc and stuff like the hans zimmer soundtrack to interstellar.
I listen to this CD over and over again:

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