Saturday, August 02, 2008

Notes from Orlando, Day Three

Wow! Today was the best day by far. Honestly, some parts of the School of Congregational Development have been a bit disappointing, because I feel like a lot of what we're receiving is based on an older model of congregational development that isn't likely to engage younger generations or those in progressive cultures like Portland -- but today was really good.

First, we heard from Carol Howard Merritt, a young Presbyterian pastor from Washington, D.C. and author of The Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation. She started out by telling a story about one of her parishioners, a member of the church council (or whatever they call the governing board in Presbyterian churches) who arrived late for a meeting, apologized for her tardiness, and explained that she'd run into a friend on the way there. When it accidentally slipped out that she was on her way to church, she'd felt the need to explain... to clarify... "No! It's not what you think it is! My church isn't like that!" And Carol confessed she finds herself doing the same thing, all the time, when people learn that she's a pastor.

Oh, man! Does that sound familiar?!

"Yes, I'm a pastor, but it's not like that! My church isn't what you think it is. We believe in peace and work for justice, and we don't reduce faith to moralisms, and we aren't homophobic or sexist or narrow-minded, and we don't think you have to be a Republican to follow Jesus!"

Yes, all too familiar!

"Church can be very scary," Carol says. "If you go to church and you still dare to admit it, you have some explaining to do."

As a young adult in ministry (although getting less young all the time, I must confess: I turn 38 tomorrow!), I found it fascinating to hear Carol's presentation. So much of it rang true, from my experience, both personally and with others from my generation. A few things to hold onto:
  • Six million people who used to go to church no longer do -- they're under age 45. They are "The Missing Generation." Six million!
  • Too often, we in the church think in terms of life cycles. We celebrate a child's baptism, we raise them in Sunday School, and we celebrate a big "graduation" when they complete confirmation. Then we send them off, expecting they'll come back when they have kids of their own. Then we plan ministries for Mom-and-Dad-and-the-kids, but we don't offer much for those in between. The problem is, only 25% of households have Mom and Dad and kids. 51% of women in our society aren't married. When the single young adult comes to worship for the first time, the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) message we convey is, "You are not what we're looking for."
  • Misunderstandings about young adults:
    - Employment: that young adults quit their jobs if they don't fit in with their yoga schedules. Truth: many, many young adults are in temporary employment because it's the only work they can get. They work long hours, and their productivity is higher than previous generations. Because they're in temp jobs, they have few benefits, and they are often the first to be laid off. 30% of people ages 19-29 have no health insurance -- particularly troubling when you remember that this is the time period when people have typically had babies... today many young adults can't even get a doctor's appointment!
    - Finances: that young adults prefer to "mooch" off their parents. Truth: young adults find themselves in terrible financial hardship because of the tragic combination of enormous student loans, the high cost of housing (particularly in urban areas, where young adults can find work), and stagnant wages. She described college students with whom she works who hold down four jobs while taking a full course load, and then celebrate that they've been able to keep their student loans to $50,000.
    - Commitments: that young adults are "commitment-phobic." Truth: marriage rates are lower (often because of financial insecurity), but among young adults who are married, divorce rates are lower, too. And commitment to a job can't be measured fairly, since so many young adults find themselves forced to work temp jobs.
  • Young adults aren't looking for entertainment in church: they find contemplative prayer and labyrinths to be incredibly engaging. Often the parts of worship that appeal most to this generation are times of silence.
  • Gen X (ages 25-45) is the most innovative generation ever in our nation. Young adults are eager to start new things. Gen Y (under age 25) is huge -- bigger, Carol says, than the Baby Boomer generation. At the same time, Gen Y is more institutionally minded than Gen X. So what if, she asks -- what if we allowed Gen X to develop new communities of faith to engage Gen Y? Wow! That question is rocking my world right now. It sounds to me like a recipe for the most incredible transformation of the church... the next Great Awakening, yes?

And then from Marcia McFee, the coolest stuff ever about music and worship! If I had come just for this seminar, it would have been worth it. Just a few snippets, because it's late and I'm tired:

  • One size does not fit all. Use the full repertoire: jazz, traditional hymns (including with new arrangements and even new melodies), bluegrass, old and new contemporary (which really is not an oxymoron), global, Taize, blues, Iona, popular songs...
  • Question: Is this the right song for this moment, to evoke the feeling I'm trying to create? It's not just about using the right genre.
  • Question: How do we create an environment in which to experience the Holy? ... for this message... for this place... for these people?
  • Think like a filmmaker: create a "score" or "soundscape" for our experience of the Holy. Use music for transitions. Let it be the glue for the layers of worship, connecting the verbal, the visual, and the visceral.

Good stuff today! Lots to process! Lots to utilize!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Sounds great! So glad you got to meet Carol, I hope to meet her sometime, too. Happy Birthday!