It’s always dangerous to ask a Young Person to speak for their generation, but I do it anyway. I met N at a fundraiser over the weekend. She is 19 and just finished her first year in college. She is clearly brilliant and I think she might be governor of North Carolina one day. I not only liked her immediately, but I also wanted to pick her brain about many things. (“Have you watched Fleabag? I’m trying to find someone to talk about Fleabag’s understanding of the Meaning of Life.”)
I asked her about church. She is not a church person (“at all“) although she is clearly a spiritually reflective person. And I asked her where she found her “church.” Specifically, I asked her, “Who would bring you casseroles if you were recovering from surgery?”
Note: She probably doesn’t eat casseroles but it was a general question.
Everybody needs church – and what I mean by church here is this:
- Church is the community that gets you and wants the best for you.
- Church is the person or people who step up when you need a blessing, a prayer, a shoulder, an accountability partner.
- Church is the chosen family in which you are safe.
- Church is the gathering that shines light on the meaning of life.
- Church is the Body that points to the Holy
- Church is the community where you belong (see 1-4 above), then you behave (there are norms you come to follow) and then you (finally) believe. (Thank you Phyllis Tickle. In the 20th Century Church, the order was reversed: believe, behave, belong.)
Also – when Jesus is in charge – Church is
- The Body of Christ in the world, changing everything so that life is ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ This includes all that many secular organizations do too: feed the hungry, house the homeless, love the unlovable, welcome the stranger, work for justice.
I’m blessed to be part of several churches. One of my churches meets in a local restaurant where people share openly about the meds they’re on and the relationships they are in/out of. It’s where we show up for each other when there’s a Big Event in someone’s life. This church is called Zada Jane’s.
Another of my churches is comprised of clergywomen who’ve been through things together. We don’t need to explain ourselves much. Laughing and crying are a large part of our liturgy in Ordinary Time.
Another of my churches is comprised of extended family who share faith in Jesus with a hearty dose of ancestor worship. We are just now noticing that the ancestors are not actually worthy of praise sometimes and that’s okay because God is.
I could go on and on but I hope you see what I mean.
My college friend N says that with social media making community is so easy that she doesn’t need church. For her and her friends, “going to church” is where you made connections – not always with God but with “the right people.” It feels transactional.
Today, she gets a text about a fundraiser like the one we attended over the weekend. She gets a message about a meet-up for coffee. She sees a posting about a group gathering. These are her people and they are diverse and plentiful.
Someone asked me last week if I’d figured out what’s next for the Church of Jesus Christ (hah) and I’m still working on it. But Fleabag is part of that discernment because I know many people like the characters in that series. And there are bright college students who grapple with life’s purpose and there are hopeless young adults who gather for eggs on Saturday mornings with hangovers and there are pastors who keep Narcan in their cars. And there are the traditional Church People who still gather on Sunday mornings to sit in pews and sing and pray and hear the Word proclaimed and celebrate sacramental moments.
At least on this day, I see lots of kinds of churches that meet throughout each week and throughout each day in traditional and random places.
Some focus on belonging (“Everyone is welcomed. We love you no matter what.“) Some focus on behaving (“This is how we live – by serving others.”) And some are believers – or people who want to believe – and they want to talk with and about Jesus.
What do you see for the 21st Century Church?
Image from Fleabag (written and played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) with a priest (played by Andrew Scott) with whom she has a friendship.