Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

'Relevance Is Not Enough'

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

'Relevance Is Not Enough'

Article excerpt

Many young adults are leaving the church these days. Two 20-somethings reflect on what keeps them in the pews.

LAST FALL, I (Anne Marie) decided to take a break from the church I had been attending to check out a nearby Episcopal service with one of my housemates, Joshua. I had no idea at the time that this might turn into a permanent switch. My Baptist, Anabaptist, and evangelical roots don't quite explain what drew me to St. Stephen's Church that Sunday, but I remember the thought that kept going through my head: / need to take Communion.

For a number of reasons, I had been feeling apathetic toward Christian faith. I needed something official and visceral to cleanse me of the growing indifference I felt. The thought entered my mind: / need some bread and wine, because if my own prayers can't kindle the spirit of Jesus within me, then I'll get him in there by force. I hoped that partaking in the real-deal-flesh-and-blood would allow me to return to my own church in peace.

I can't say that the Episcopal service that day cured me of all my doubts and frustrations about Christianity, but I did find meaning in the liturgy, rituals, and traditions that continued to sustain me in my first year in a new city. As Joshua and I continued to attend St. Stephen's, we each reflected on what we, as young adults, are looking for in church and Christian community.

Church advertisements often focus on how to keep young people "engaged," and there are countless new books about why young people are leaving the church. Statistics show decreased church attendance among those in our generation, and while this may be cause for concern, I'm not too worried about it. I'm glad that churches and denominations are interested in engaging young people, but so often this well-meaning desire is rooted in fear and anxiety about the future of the church. Is Christianity becoming obsolete? Will the church die away?

News flash: Christianity isn't going anywhere. But churches and denominations may have to adapt-and not necessarily the way they're doing so now-if they are to survive.

As 20-somethings who've leftthe cocoons of family and college for our first forays into the "real world," we have two basic conclusions about what we are looking for in church communities.

1) I want to be part of something larger than myself.

JOSHUA: During my early teens, the Lutheran church in which I was raised set apart one of its three services for "contemporary" worship. Out with the formal liturgy, because it becomes stale and limits the expression of faith-that was the reasoning. Trade in the hymnals for a projector screen, clerical vestments for a shirt and tie, and the creeds for a few extra songs or an extended sermon. It soon became the most-attended service.

Until my senior year of high school, I loved it. I could connect with God, unhindered by formal recitations and structures. But transcendence-the quality of stretching beyond ourselves to connect with a greater history and meaning-was missing.

During my college years, this concept of transcendence became real to me as I interacted with the Book of Common Prayer. Together with my community, I would recite the ancient affirmations of faith and engage in timeless rites and rituals that remind the church of its shared vision, the hope to which we aspire.

The wonderful thing about transcendence is that it scoops us up locally and globally, backward and forward. As I participate in a liturgical service, I am investing in the local community, making peace with those 1 see on a regular basis, lifting up prayers of joy and concern week after week, and communing around ancient symbols of nourishment and sustenance. This practice of gathering around a common structure has historically guided the global church and continues to direct us today, giving these words and rituals enduring meaning.

I don't believe that transcendence can only be found in high-church traditions, but there is great value in holding on to practices that have sustained large portions of the church for so long. …

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