Not Style, Substance
Updated: Aug 25, 2021
In all my years in the church, I've been to a lot of worship. I've sang and prayed and listened and watched in the most stunning cathedral sanctuaries, in the glow of rose windows under the sentry of hewn angels and saints. I've sat groggy in the oblique morning sun of pristine white naves with red carpet and golden chandeliers, laughed around lichen-crusted picnic tables while pita bread was fractioned and grape juice poured into red plastic cups, huddled for warmth on the dock as the sun crested the James River, bidding us as we bid it. I suffered sermons that put even seminary faculty to sleep and been cracked open by tree-frog droned silences that would give even Screwtape pause. Worship is a vessel, and that vessel's façade, I've learned, does not always indicate how much water a liturgy can hold or even if it will float.
It feels like flood waters and rising tides are encroaching from all sides these days, soaking through any semblances of normal we once had or hope to ever have again and worship and faith and communion could be the solution in an ever-hurting world. All too often though, 'Church' is deemed the answer to questions that the Church might too afraid to truly ask. What do the people of God need right now? What is this moment calling for that the Gospel has to offer? From what flood waters can the Church be an ark, and for whom?
The Church's ministry to young adults must ground itself in the Good News positioned tête-à-tête with our present Bad Times; Good News does not simply meaning Positive News but Necessary News, Prophetic News, Challenging News, Comforting News. The world we have grown up in (I'm 30 years old myself) has been slowly spiraling out of control, and shows no signs of slowing. Folks are wondering if this country can ever heal the breach right down the center of our collective identity (or if we've ever even had a collective identity). They're wondering how much societal collapse will accompany the climate's collapse and why some people are so committed to defending inequalities and prejudices and violence (even to their own demise) and we're wondering what role we unwittingly play in them too. Young adults have struggled to find the kind of stability that seemed so emblematic of adulthood and wonder how much more our expectations of the future will have to be amended, if there is to be a future at all.
We are a people desperately in need of Good News, and young adults are in unique positions of longing in a church body for whom a promised future has mostly been made manifest. Home ownership, healthcare, pension, disposable income, and family vacations are not guaranteed nor do the uneasy alliances of polite, unspoken political differences remain innocuous. The 'Good' 'News' afforded to previous generations by economic, political, and social life no longer exists--Good News the Church simply borrowed from other smaller gods and blessed and sanctified as its own. Perhaps the Mainline's inattention to this shifting tide in the lives of its young adult rhymes with our concurrent realization that there are many people--black and brown and queer and poor--for whom this country has never promised Good News.
It is a lovely thing to find oneself in a beautiful space, a calm space, an exciting space, but all of these things are already available to young adults in bars and yoga studios and regional parks and on their friends' back decks. It is lovely too to find oneself within earshot of a truly Good Word, a vision of a future that we can place our hope in, and one that is increasingly on offer from good-hearted secular organizations and businesses (like Haymarket Books and Ben & Jerry's). The Church would do well to remember that it is a vessel with not many but one destination--the Kingdom of God--and whether it is by oceanliner or yacht, canoe or flotilla, there are people who will long to make that journey if only they are given the choice of knowing where we're headed.