This past Saturday we hosted a time with award-winning author, speaker and blogger Rachel Held Evans. Rachel shared with us some of her insights on the evolving faith of young adults, and we had a spirited conversation about opportunities (both missed and embraced), challenges of ministry in the UCC (and DOC for our partners in ministry from that denomination), and where each of us fit into the landscape.
Rachel referenced the Barna research that I’ve posted about, and we discussed not only how the UCC embraces many of the values that many young adults find missing in their church experiences, but also how we may have gotten lazy and passive in our expression of those values. An example: one of the frustrations that drives young people away from the church is a sense of anti-intellectualism or anti-science in their churches.
Now, the UCC is anything but, and has a long history of embracing the roles of science and faith, and seeing their complementary roles. But where we may well be missing out is assuming that because we’re “not like that”, that young people may be able to identify and recognize our beliefs and feel welcome and at home. How are we actually engaging those who have been captured by the beauty, the depth and the wonder of science? Instead of issuing statements of support for our friends in the scientific community, why aren’t we opening up our sanctuaries and meeting spaces to host public forums on the roles of faith & science? And we don’t need to do it all ourselves – we can use the infrastructure of our buildings and facilities open to groups so that we are known as hubs of activity in our communities.
And lest I seem to be placing myself too high on a non-existent pedestal, this idea struck me as I realized that a woman in my own congregation is part of a San Diego area science competition for youth, and one of the finalists is a young person in my Sunday School class.
The crux of this is that often we don’t take the time to realize just how few people realize about all that our congregations are doing. We remain “best-kept secrets” when we should strive to be the worst-kept secrets in our communities. I hope that in my role with the conference, we can play some part in widening the awareness of and invitation to the vital ministries that so many of our congregations enact. Rachel also shared with us dozens of responses to her blog asking why young adults had left or had considered leaving the church, and among those were: – I want a safe place to ask hard questions – I don’t feel welcome in church as the true person that I am – I can’t be myself in church – I don’t feel I can contribute the gifts that I have, only the gifts that people in my church seem to want – Challenge me! I want depth in preaching and worship and study. Take me deeper – Music: whether it’s modern, traditional or ancient, please let it be good! – My church doesn’t help me make any connection between my faith and my life – I want to hear about the faith journeys of other people in my church. I want to know their stories, so perhaps I can learn from other peoples’ experiences – Unwelcoming to LGBT people – I want to be engaged, not tolerated – Just because I’m search that doesn’t mean I’m walking away – I want my faith to connect to social justice, and know why it’s important to my faith; otherwise I can join a service club somewhere else – Where is the place for art and creativity in church? – Repressive / disingenuous views about sexuality – It’s too focused on us vs. them (and this includes liberals as well as conservatives) – Church is not a safe place for me to evolve.
It’s quite a list, and one that could be discussed for years, except that we don’t have the luxury of that time. I’ll spend a little more time with some of these in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if anyone has other thoughts, ideas, comments or editorials on any of these, please comment or send me an email. I think that much of what we experienced with Rachel Held Evans was a catharsis, and an opportunity to express ourselves in a safe place, and look for ideas and opportunities to serve one another. More on that ahead. Thanks to Rachel Held Evans, and to the 15 folks who sat around the table with her and were part of a great Saturday afternoon.