25 February 2015

Addressing the Millennial Church Question - Lenten Devotional 2

We are in the first full week of Lent.  It is a time for intense introspection and for watching where and how the Spirit is moving today.  For this reason, I want to direct you to this blog post asking why millennials are not attending church.

It doesn't beat around the bush.  It addresses one of the issues I have struggled with in my love/hate relationship with the way children's and youth ministry has been done for many years.  I have felt since I was young that inter-generational ministry is of utmost importance.  The majority of congregations simply don't know how to do this anymore.  I have heard our elders often wonder why the sanctuary isn't sacred to the younger generations.  It may partially be because, as the blog author reminds us, children and youth have usually been found in the basement of the building while the adults do church in their own way in the sanctuary. 

The future isn't as bleak as it appears in the aforementioned post, though.  Through Sunday School, VBS and Children's Church, our younger generations have learned to connect with the Divine through music, movement, nature, creative endeavors and outreach mission trips.  This means that people around my age bracket are more likely to experience and express our spirituality in our everyday life, not just on Sunday mornings.  It does have the downside that we often do not really feel like we "fit in" on Sunday morning in a sanctuary or church building.  The question I think our congregations really need to consider is not "why aren't millennials coming to our church?" but instead "how are millennials connecting with the Divine, with other people and with the rest of creation?"

Perhaps, when we consider this, we may not be so hopeless when we look at the demographics of our church attendance.  It may be helpful for us to consider that through the Gen-X, Millennial and younger generations, God is at work in a different way than has been seen in recent history.  Belief in God is not absent, nor is spirituality lacking.  What our congregations might want to ask is how we can learn from our younger generations.  What might the Beloved have to show us through the ways our younger generations are doing "church"?

Our congregational leaders are realizing that without the funding of the younger folks, our buildings may crumble.  They may be sold or downsized or shared. But the truth of the matter is, church has never been about the building.  It is about the people.  Perhaps, through the younger generations, we are being reminded of Emmanuel -- the Presence of God is in our midst, in our everyday lives, in our hearts.  The church building and the structured organization may seem to unravel in the coming years, but the truth is Church will remain, for Church is the people of God revealing Christ's love to the world.

Here in the theological zombie realm, we have been working on remembering who we are and why we are here.  This is the fundamental question that we must ask if we are to be infused with new life.  Although it is a question that we all must ask ourselves individually, it is an essential question for the group that is called the Church.  Who are we?  What is our calling?  How is the Beloved working through us in the world today?

Take heart, dear ones.  This is not the end.  It is simply the birthing pangs of a new creation being infused with the Breath of the Holy Spirit.  The Church is remembering who we are called to be.

The American church is obsessed with reaching millennials. Well, at least we are obsessed with talking about it. I’m not entirely convinced we really want to reach them, or…

19 February 2015

Lenten Devotion 1 - What are we Giving Up?

On this second day of Lent, we continue our centering, prayer and devotion.  Many have chosen to give something up for the next forty days until the rise of Eastertide.  Choosing to give something up has long been a way of showing special devotion or respect to our Beloved, or of re-aligning ourselves with Christ's purpose here on the earth.

I recall one year while I was in college that I gave up worrying for Lent.  This took a great deal of energy at first, demanding a large portion of my attention and resolve.  I worked very hard to let go of my need to control the various aspects of my life.  

My marriage, my studies, my work, my ministry, my future, my health, my family -- all of these things were often on my mind swirling in a jumbled mess of worry, chaos or despair.  Each one had to be intentionally released into the arms of One who Loves.  It was sometimes a moment-by-moment act of trust and letting go.

This was incredibly difficult at first.  Somehow in my daily living my mental hands had become like the rubbery tentacles of a giant octopus, tightly wound around each particular detail of my life, then suctioned on with super glue.  I wasn't prepared for the pain in the process that came in the beginning as each individual suction cup was pried away from its treasured possession.  The act could be likened to the detailed work of getting a sweet kitty's claws unstuck from a dearly loved crocheted blanket.  Each fiber in the yarn and each individual claw has to be handled carefully so that the blanket and the kitty both remain in tact.

Photo by TheoZomB
As unprepared as I was for the difficulty of this fast in the beginning, I also was not nearly prepared for how much it would become second nature by the end of the Lenten journey.  I did not realize how much my prayer life would shift after that Lenten fast from worry.  Years later, this devotion still has an impact on my life.

So, when I read today that Pope Francis has a different sort of fast in mind for devoted followers of Christ across the globe, I paid attention.  I have often been finding myself struck by this leader's wisdom and grace.  Today is no different.  Followers of Christ are encouraged to give up indifference for Lent -- to use this time to connect with the pain and suffering of the world.  If you read my Ash Wednesday post, you will see how closely aligned he and I are in this perspective.  I greatly appreciate the way Christopher Hale of Time writes of Pope Francis' invitation:
"...when we fast from this indifference, we can began to feast on love. In fact, Lent is the perfect time to learn how to love again. Jesus—the great protagonist of this holy season—certainly showed us the way. In him, God descends all the way down to bring everyone up. In his life and his ministry, no one is excluded."
Fasting opens us up for feasting.  Lent is the perfect time to learn how to love again.  Truly, it is a time to remember who we are.

So, dear ones, what are you giving up for Lent?  Or what are you taking on?  No matter what it is, my prayer is that our Lenten devotions may bring us closer to our Creator, closer to one another and closer to the whole of creation.  May this be a time of letting go of our old ways of being; may it be a time of remembering who we are.

18 February 2015

A Service of Ashes

Ash Wednesday is one of the most powerful days of the Christian year.  We remember that we are, indeed, mortal beings in a finite world held together simply through the breath, grace and love of our Creator. On Ash Wednesday, everything and everyone is laid bare.

About a decade ago, one of the little babies that I nannied, (the first tiny infant I had held since my own miscarriages) died on Ash Wednesday. I received the news at the end of my preschool teaching that morning, only moments before the noontide service was to begin upstairs in the church sanctuary. My parents were meeting me at the service. My dad look at me when I walked in and he knew what had happened. The sweet infant's heart surgery that morning had gone terribly wrong.

My dad held me close to his own heart as we remained in the narthex listening to the familiar Ash Wednesday liturgy -- words that had swept over me from my own infancy years. We cried together over the poignancy of those words reflecting on our mortality and the suffering in the world. My parents and I walked down the aisle, an aisle we had walked down together in joy only a few years before as I married my high school sweetheart. I walked that aisle knowing that, for me and for all who loved that little baby, nothing would ever be the same.

Walking down that aisle, I faced mortality head on. As I received the sign of ashes on my forehead, the senior minister and I looked at each other through bloodshot, tear-filled eyes. His voice was a trembling whisper. "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Even in the midst of my deepest shock, those words struck me to my core.

Now, a decade later, the words strike deeply again, as only a couple of months ago, I held my father's ashes in my hands before they were laid to rest on a sunny day in the midst of winter.

On Ash Wednesday, we remember our mortality. We remember the suffering in the world. We acknowledge our fears, our shortcomings and our sadness.

In our remembrance and intentions during the Lenten season that begins today, we speak of death without hesitation. We cry out at the pain, suffering and injustice in our world. We walk the road of shadows, pricking our fingers on the thorns and getting down on our hands and knees in the mud and muck of life. We remember who we are. And in so doing, we open ourselves up to the possibility of breathing in new life.

The joy and triumph of Easter means nothing without the sting of death. So, my sisters and brothers, may we not be hasty to embrace the light. Walk with me along this road of shadows. Let us stumble together along the pathway of Lent.