Sunday afternoon musings after worship...

We've been winding down at church for the past few weeks getting ready to enter a different groove with summer - and today that new beat was realized in our very informal worship conversation about adult Christian formation. We celebrated our Sunday School teachers and students, awarded Bibles to two 4th graders and honored our dedicated leaders. Then I tossed away my prepared notes and talked with the congregation about "how to do adult Christian formation int he 21st century."

My set up was Mary Chapin-Carpenter's song, "Stones in the Road," which evokes a childhood guided by concern for the common good vs. contemporary living shaped by the race to get ahead. It is, of course, an incomplete paradigm - as some of our younger folk noted - but it evoked a deep conversation about how to help one another grow in faith and community given the realities of this moment in time. Because, let's face it, while I have the luxury and inclination to "unplug" more and more, that is not a real option for people with children and careers.
My sister Karen was a teacher about this for me in a unique way. At our daughter's wedding a few weeks ago she told me that her family was no longer going to worship. "Every week we were made to feel inadequate and guilty about not being able to do MORE! Nobody on the church staff seemed to realize that in addition to the two adults in the household working 12+ hours each every week and then helping our son with school work - with Saturdays given to shopping and home repairs - there simply is not any time left to do more than be present and prayerful on Sunday morning." Then she paused and said, "It doesn't help to be shamed and guilt-tripped over and over... so we're not going anymore. Besides," she smiled, "it feels SO good to sleep late on Sunday mornings for a change!"

That rang true to my folk, too so we talked together about three ideas that do not add any more demands to their days but builds upon what is already good within and among us:

+ First, an annual adult formation retreat (perhaps scheduled two times so that both parents might attend separately.) There was energy about doing a REAL retreat - not a working meeting in another locale as so often happens with Protestant congregations - but a time to rest and be still, to listen and pray.

+ Second, a well-publicized in-worship book study done twice a year. We would read together at our own speed and then use my message time to highlight and discuss a book that matters to our life of faith.  

+ And third, periodic inter-generational celebrations that start in worship but extend into a congregational party. Think Epiphany pageants with singing and story-telling after worship. Or Pentecost drama that morphs into an all church birthday party. One key element is to avoid doing these events when life is ALREADY overloaded like Advent/Christmas.

None of these ideas precludes any of our more traditional offerings shared midweek, of course; rather they simply acknowledge was is real right now and finds a way to playfully engage it.  This summer we're going to try two different experiments:  a) more jazz meditation at the start of worship; and b) a discussion of Walter Brueggemann's book on Sabbath as Resistance to the Culture of Now.

In the back of my mind I have been considering Naomi Schaeffer-Riley's essay re: Seven Ways to Bring Young People Back to Your Church.  She writes:

Religion? How to Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back, journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley explores why young people have left religious institutions and what can bring them back. Here, she offers seven suggestions for bringing young people back to your faith community.

1) Pray Local: A church rooted in a particular neighborhood is a big attraction for young adults. They don't like cars as much as previous generations. They like running into people they know from their religious communities during the week. It gives a religious community a sense of accountability and deeper connections when those daily interactions occur.

2) Buy American: Even in an era where we embrace diversity, religious institutions that retain too much of their immigrant heritage are bound for failure. Future generations will not be comfortable praying and learning in foreign tongues. They may get some moments of nostalgia from their grandparents' food and music but ultimately, they will choose a religious life that feels like it is of the new world not the old.

3) Demand Better Service: Young adults have been raised in a generation where service learning was part of their college and high school experience. For many, the connection between faith and service has been severed altogether. But now that young adults have so many years between college graduation and settling down for a family, religious groups should ask that these young people do full-time service for a year or two. Not everyone will say yes, but those who do make the sacrifice will remain committed for a lifetime.

4) Leave the Light on: Young adults like to tell pollsters that they don't
like commitment and that they are distrustful of institutions. But once they are inside the building, once they have made a couple of friends, suddenly churches, synagogues and mosques seem less like stodgy institutions and more like places to hang out. Even if it means letting them come to sample without a firm commitment, we need to send the message that institutions matter and roving bands of friends connecting on Facebook will not be able to preserve or even remake those institutions in the years to come.

5) Send Singles Signals: Religious institutions have for too long depended on marriage to bring back young adults who have dropped the practice of faith. With the average age of marriage getting higher, it is time for houses of worship to figure out a way to speak to singles. Whether that means giving them a community of their own, integrating them more into a multigenerational church, or making religious messages more applicable to their lives, faith communities cannot afford to lose this demographic.

6) Clean House: It may not seem like a nice thing to do, but it's time to fire the old people. Emerging adults are not real adults in part because we don't give them enough responsibility. Whether it's their fault or ours, they live in their parents' basements, hold part-time jobs, put off marriage and drop in and out of school. But you know what? They're old enough to plan holiday events or community dinners. They can teach children and help with fundraising. They will step up when they realize that they are needed. Until then, they'll assume that the older, married members of a congregation will shoulder all the burdens.

7) Open Borders: It may be time for a new era of collaboration. Young adults may simply have become too accustomed to high-cost religious entertainment, the kind that would bankrupt any one church or synagogue. But cooperating on some of the big events with coreligionists would serve to lure young adults back into the fold while at the same time appealing to this generation's desire to see greater unity in their faith communities.

Naomi Schaefer RileyNaomi Schaefer Riley is a weekly columnist for the New York Post and a former Wall Street Journal editor. She is the author of Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage Is Transforming America, God on the Quad, and The Faculty Lounges. She lives with her husband, Jason, and their three children in suburban New York City.

This isn't perfect - no one summary can hit the mark all the time - but Ms. Riley points to realities that all too often escape old dudes like me. One of the blessings of staying connected to singles and young families is that it forces me to rethink the assumptions I have been trained to celebrate in ministry. This is a brave new world - so we're going to step up and shake some dust off as summer 2014 unfolds - and we're going to do it in ways that make sense to people who can dig this.


ddl said…
rj-- check out this music video and lyrics by Ingrid Michaelson "Blood Brothers." It is very good, I believe.
RJ said…
ddl - that is freakin'-awesome. Thank you so much: a NEW song for the band to work on for sure!
ddl said…
I am glad you like it.
Freakin awesome is a great way to describe it! ;)
Have you read The Childhood of Jesus? It is by JM Coetzee. I am reading it now and can't put the book down...well almost not. It is a long parable. I hope it doesn't break my heart (again). But it has these great quotes-- any of which could be food to reflect on. Some of the material is edgy. I mean, it touches on spirituality and sexuality and parenthood and why we even do the things we do. But in parable form. It is freakin amazing. The author, whom I am not familiar with, he won a nobel prize I think for some other writing. It strikes me that the "work down at the docks" is like talking about the church and maybe the early Jesus movement-- before Jesus was Jesus-- if that makes sense. You want to climb into the writer's head. Crazy good. Let me know if you read it.

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