This is an open letter to young adults who spent their childhoods being dragged by parents to church, or running ahead of them each Sunday. Children like my own. I am hoping you will find this copy of The United Church Observer* on your grandmother’s coffee table beneath the AARP Magazine next to the bowl of mints.
You know who you are. You coloured pictures of Jesus suffering the little children to come unto him; you’ve worn tinfoil halos or tea-towels on your head; one of your comfort foods is moulded jellied salad; your first crush was on another youth group member; and you can recite the stories of Noah and Moses and Jesus with uncommon accuracy.
First off, I want to apologize to you. I am sorry that the Jesus we served up at pot-luck suppers was so bland. That the God you met at Vacation Bible School was so compromised by western culture and middle-class morality. That the wildness of the Holy Spirit we preached was so domesticated. I am sorry we talked about prayer and social justice and forgiveness more than we lived them.
I am sorry that we managed to make discipleship so boring. People ask me: “Why aren’t young adults in church?” I tell them “…because church is boring.” Mainline Christianity, I confess, suffers from bad cases of frightened caution and numbing orderliness. It is a miracle really, that we managed to hang on to a few of you.
Still, we love the church, what it has been to us, how it continues to inspires us. The church community is where we experience real, if limited, love and grace on earth. It hurts our hearts to see what has become of it.
Are you aware of how much time we spend plotting to get you back? That’s why we got the band, spend far too much time on our Facebook pages, wear ill-fitting jeans on Sunday mornings, and put tables with crayons on them in the sanctuary. Apparently, you haven’t noticed or our efforts haven’t been enough to lure you back to the fold… to save the church.
That brings me to the second thing I want to say to you. You don’t need to save the church. You don’t need to save us either or, for heaven’s sake, Jesus. Not that you seem to be worried about saving the church, but just in case. Saving the church is a matter of idolatry. And saving Jesus is, well silly.
Rather than saving the church, I challenge you to be the church, to be the rising body of Christ set loose in the world. It is not enough to fall back on being “spiritual but not religious”. We need community, places where we can learn, grow, be called to account, pool resources and talents toward wholeness. Religion.
That might seem anachronistic in the modern world but I have been watching some of you – you who as children we tattooed with Christ– doing things that look to me like church, like discipleship communities.
You get together with your friends to eat, laugh, cry and listen to the songs that jazz your souls. You break bread and drink wine – maybe a little too much wine. You create community through honest conversations about love, good and evil, sex, politics, capitalism, the planet. You inspire creativity in one another. Some of you are successful in your careers and are wrestling with questions about how to give back, stay real, and guard your soul.
You wrestle together with what it means to be good, to be happy, in the 21st Century.
Like leaven and salt, I see you marching in Pride parades, calling for justice for Palestinians and indigenous peoples, prophesying to the wounded condition of the planet. You volunteer at the food bank and shop at second hand stores, try to live simply so others can simply live.
Researchers tell us that while you don’t care much for church you still like Jesus. You occasionally read your Bible. You pray and meditate and are sometimes moved to the tears of mysticism by the beauty or the pain of it all.
If you find a church where your faith and discipleship are nourished, praise Jesus there, but if like so many in your generation you are feeling betrayed or simply bored by us, move on, be the church. If you are hearing the still-small voice, echoing from your childhood among us, calling you to servanthood, justice and love, then gather with others, find a way together. Be the church. Maybe we will join you.
*This article was first published in the December 2013 issue of the United Church Observer.
Image: Beer and bread by Jon Sullivan, available through Public Domain Images