More on “Leaving Church:” the “nones,” young adults and the future of Christianity

Skye Jethani weighs in, building on Berger’s essay.

So, we are left with a narrow path. Veer too far to the cultural right and the young will dismiss the church as a puppet of Republican politics. Veer too far to the theological left and the power of the Gospel is lost amid cultural accommodation.

The younger generations, and our culture as a whole, needs evidence of a third way to be Christian. It will require more than individual voices, but an organized and identifiable community of believers that reject Christianism and stands for Christ’s Good News, manifested in good lives, and evident in good works.

So does Jonathan Fitzgerald:

Now, after spending much of my adulthood trying to find a place to belong, I’ve turned into the opposite of a None — I’ve become a proud Joiner. Since college, my own search has found me desperate to join. I have considered Roman Catholic confirmation, Presbyterian church membership and, most recently, Episcopalian identification. To that end, I have been attending confirmation classes at my local Episcopal parish since last month.

As I look around at my fellow Joiners, I see that it is specifically those who have lived the life of the unaffiliated who have decided, Sunday after Sunday, for several hours following Mass, to gather and discuss the rhythm of the liturgical calendar, the purpose of baptism, the history of the church and the beauty of the Book of Common Prayer. I’m not sure whether I’ll be confirmed when the class ends in eight weeks, but there is certainly something attractive about the prospect.

It would be foolish to think God requires affiliation as a means of access. We humans however tend to corral into formal groupings, whether it’s organized religion or political parties. In the absence of tried-and-true tradition, we begin to create our own. My guess is that, as the numbers of Nones continue to increase, they will begin to develop traditions, create rules and define their orthodoxy until, ultimately, something like a new denomination will arise. Perhaps in 2022 someone will declare “The Rise of the Joiners” as one of the life-changing ideas of the moment.

He wasn’t really ever a none. He was a Christian, grew up a Christian, but outside of Christian community.

Yesterday was one of those days of grace at Grace, surrounded by the ministry and faith of young (and older) adults. A fine sermon by Lauren Cochran (young adult herself); a presentation on our companion diocese relationship with the Diocese of Newala, in Tanzania.

The first session of a spontaneous confirmation class which bears out some of the discussion I’ve been linking to here. Four of the five who attended are young adults who have come from more conservative religious backgrounds; the fifth an older adult who was baptized and confirmed Roman Catholic. During our conversation, I pointed out that these demographics were pretty typical for Episcopal gatherings in that a majority (in our case all, including the two clergy in attendance) were not “cradle” Episcopalian.

Later in the day, I celebrated the Eucharist and shared dinner with the Episcopal Campus Ministry. We had planned on getting home by 7, but lively conversation and fellowship kept us lingering until almost 8. As we chatted, I noted to myself the rather different dynamics: of the six or eight who stayed till the end to help with cleanup, it was half and half–half had grown up Episcopalian, the other half not. The importance of that community to those who were there was palpable. Gathered together around the altar, gathered together to share a meal and working together to clean up; all the while talking to one another, asking questions about matters Episcopalian and theological, and checking in on how each other was doing.

That’s the work of Christian community, important work, and evangelistic work, as among those in attendance were people who had been coming every week, and some who had come for the first time; experiencing hospitality, welcome, and the love of Christ. When we do that, and do it well, we don’t have to worry about the future–and our work this semester is building a solid foundation for the chaplain we will call to that ministry.

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