I’ve often wondered why we, as millennials, are known for our insistence upon radical authenticity and our lack of tolerance for facades. The bulk of our generation grew up in the years surrounding and following the Columbine High School shooting. Many of us grew up doing “code red drills” where we hid under our desks and inside closets, knowing that in the instance that a shooter wrought havoc on our school, only a windowed classroom door stood between the shooter and our demise. Whenever I student-taught in college and entered a new classroom for the first time, my first instinct was to get a full visual layout of the room and see how I could best protect my students if there were to be a shooter. If there was a closet in the classroom, was it locked or unlocked? Was it big enough to hold students? Was there a window that students could safely use to exit the building? All of these questions went through my mind. These questions were harrowing questions to ask, but not at all out of the ordinary.
One of the odd perks of being a millennial, even if an “old” one, in the Episcopal Church is that I have always been expected to be a leader. Someone once suggested that it’s because I have some special quality or other, but probably it is just because I have continued to show up. Given that nearly all the millennial Episcopalians I know, no matter their shape, size or color, are also priests, I suspect that my experience is not entirely unique. Although this sort of experience may have been more common than I realized at the time, parts of it still strike me as odd.
During my youth there were plenty of occasions when I was asked to take on some small task or to coordinate some small group, which is all meet, right, and good. I imagine that this is normal for most kids who grow up in church. The odd part was that most of the time I was the only kid who showed up to church. This resulted in quirky absurdities like being named the leader of a youth group of which I was the only member. (I even received diocesan training for it!)
It is not uncommon to hear the question: “How do we get Millennials (aka Young Adults) into our church(es)?” This question, however, misses the goal if you are a faith community trying to connect with young adults and invite them to join you in following Jesus. The motivation behind this question is misguided. Masked as an attempt at evangelism, the real question being asked is “how do we get young adults to buy/invest/tithe into our communities and the work of our church institution.” My response to this is to re-think the question.
Why not try these on instead: What is it about my experience of faith in this community that I want to share with young adults? What are we doing here in this church, at this time and place, that young adults would want to be a part of, be companions in, be leaders of? How is my relationship with God leading me to invite others to know the joy of following Jesus? And how does inviting young adults to be a part of this faith community nourish, equip, encourage me to do that?
For over thirty years, The Episcopal Church was part of my self and soul. I was baptized as an infant with an Episcopal liturgy in a Methodist Church. I don't know how that happened either.
I’m one of those millennials. Sometimes it feels like we’re THE mystery the church must solve in order to not die. I think there are more important things to discuss, like how to follow Jesus. I used to love this slogan that dominated my childhood and young adult years: "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." It was true because we said so, no question about it. The statement was dramatic - and innocent - enough to be fallibly infallible, and because we seemed to want to mean it. Years later, I realized I never questioned it because those who weren't universally welcome already knew not to come, and if I didn't see a problem, it didn't exist.
The word “millennial”, once uttered, causes a reflex of eye rolls. I was not particularly eager to hold the title of being a millennial. The thought of millennials seems off-putting with the generations that came before mine.
I am a Navajo, Second Generation “Cradle” Episcopalian Millennial Woman. What does this mean? It means I am full of hope and wear moccasins and a ton of turquoise to national church functions. As Nadia Bolz-Webber said, “You’re winning in the jewelry category,” at the 2019 Episcopal Communicators Conference. My generation adapted through the rapid advances in technology thus we are more accepting of change and our surroundings.
Over the past few years, I’ve leaned into what it means for me to live as authentically as possible in every area of my life. By no means is this a practice that comes easily or without fear. Authenticity – to open ourselves to the world as we are – can be scary. It requires vulnerability, humility, and courage. What will people think? Will they still like me? Will I be welcome?
The scariest place to do this can be the church. For all the talk of being a welcoming place where we worship a loving God, many folks do not experience church as either of those things. I have friends and acquaintances who want nothing to do with the church for this reason. They think Jesus is pretty cool, but often they don’t see people who call themselves Christian acting like Jesus. What they see is judgment, rejection, and hate. To compound the matter, when enacted by people claiming Christianity, these three things are justified by certain theologies and interpretations of scripture. Essentially, “God tells me it’s okay to hate you,” or, “My beliefs allow me to discriminate against you and here’s my supporting argument for why you should be okay with that.” Who wants to be authentic when the risk is finding out that self-revelation can mean rejection?
In the plush yet homey lounge of our small stone-gothic church, I sat across from two men in their late 20’s whom I have had the joy to know for the last year or so. In just a few months, theirs will be our first same-sex wedding at this urban Ohio parish, an occasion welcomed and celebrated with great fanfare from the congregation, with scarcely an inkling of opposition. Glowing with delight, they shared the readings chosen for their nuptials – two from Holy Scripture, and a selection from the opinion of Justice Anthony Kennedy in the landmark 2015 Olbergfell decision affirming same-sex marriage nationwide.
The generation that has come to be known as “Millennials” has been both forcefully criticized and lustfully sought after by countless voices within and outside the Church. We’ve grown used to the endless portrayals as phone-connected disbelieving libertine avocado toast-eaters, often followed by the hand-wringing plea for “more young people” in the pews. Those of us born between 1982 and 1996 (or thereabouts) continue to take the heat for so much that’s “gone wrong” in the world of religion, not least of which because of our characteristic disinterest in the Church the way it’s “always been.” And yet, we aren’t willing to toss the Baby Jesus out with the bathwater of countless manifestations of bad church throughout the ages.
As a young adult, I yearn for a Church where all young adults experience unforgettable moments in ministries that are their own in some way. I yearn for a Church that offers young adults the tools, the love, and the patience they need in their journey of understanding themselves, their faith, and the world around them.
The Church that I hope for is the type of Church that I have glimpsed through individuals who took chances on me, encouraged me, challenged me, prayed with me, and helped form me to be the person I am today. My life as a disciple has been enriched by opportunities to both lead and learn to follow; whether I was co-chairing a diocesan commission, preaching at Nuevo Amanecer, speaking up at General Convention, serving as camp counselor or a youth leader, or helping to develop a companion diocesan relationship between Texas and Costa Rica. I am a different kind of friend, daughter, mentor, and woman of faith today because I have been invited to walk into some strange and beautiful places to find the Spirit at work there.
On the 2nd day of Ramadan 2017 our senior warden Evelyn and I attended the annual fundraising dinner of the American Muslims for Hunger Relief (AMFHR). We did this at the invitation of Ghani Khan, the Executive Director. The Church of the Advocate and AMFHR have shaped a partnership that fruited in Halal meals being offered monthly at our Advocate Cafe. How wonderful it was that evening of the fundraiser to be immersed in a cultural event outside of the Eurocentric, Christocentric framework, one that propelled me and Evelyn into a sea of colors, textures, tastes, hues and sounds that declared another way of being that nourished and enlightened and spoke to a powerful encounter with the sacred.
What AMFHR does for the Advocate community is less about the Halal meat made available to our patrons. What AMFHR does is remind us that the work before us as Christians is sometimes best done in relationships that cross boundaries to find places of common mission. Our relationship with AMFHR is not predicated upon removal and substitution, we have not substituted any Islamic beliefs or practice for our own, but rather is situated upon a common interest to meet a basic human need; i.e. the need for food. The shock is not in the partnership but in the need.
We are all aware of the need to have our church buildings be accessible. Federal and state regulations mandate the physical requirements for access. Our Welcoming Forums from years past highlighted the importance of this issue. However, many of our churches are still not in full compliance for physical accessibility. Most have ramps, some have accessible bathrooms, but movement from one floor to another is still an issue. I recently attended a breakfast event where the church hall was on the second floor with winding stairs. Chairlifts and elevators are expensive so the required upgrades are often not made. A reminder that there are grants available to assist organizations to become compliant, therefore we need to be more vigilant about seeking these funds. The consequences are the deterrence of persons from attending church and clients from accessing outreach programs.
The news was frightening – and frighteningly familiar. An attack on students at Ohio State University. Accounts of an active shooter turned into active assailant who by all counts purposefully plowed into a group of students and professors, and then attacked them with a butcher knife. We learned soon that the attacker was from a native of Somalia and a Muslim.
Immediately, I heard calls for tighter immigration controls and see-I-told-you-so’s from people who support a mandate for the government to register (and restrict?) all Muslims.
Like most of the country, I had never heard of Bean Blossom (also spelled Beanblossom) Indiana, before this weekend. It’s honestly the kind of name someone on the blue parts of the coasts might make up to mock the perceived backwardness or hokey-ness of the center of the country. Bean Blossom.
Last Sunday, the members of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom arrived at their church to find it painted with a swastika, the phrase “Heil Trump” and the phrase “Fag Church.”
I want to be like Bean Blossom.
I planned to be a gracious winner the week after the election.
I wasn’t going to rub it in the faces of folks who had been Donald Trump supporters. My social media presence would be demure, and while I expected to dance a little jig inside, my public persona would call for unity and broad arms to encircle the disenfranchised.
I didn’t expect to be the one needing the arms.
Music has always been a struggle in our Spanish service at St. Mary’s. As we have slowly built membership in our largely low-income neighborhood, we are not anywhere close to generating the kind of offerings that would fully support the clergy time that goes into the service, much less paying a professional musician. We’ve tried different things over the years -- a priest with a guitar or piano, a capella singing, some paid musical help. In recent years, we’ve come upon what I would argue is the best musical situation yet: bartering for band music.
Commemorations and TV specials marked the 15 anniversary of 9/11. I know many priests, including my own, preached stirring sermons. At my church, we also experienced the words of the sermon come to life.
The day before we had a special delivery. Our congregation is building a columbarium in the chapel, and many folks have come together to work on various components. The contributions of these parishioners are wonderful. But the gift of one person is changing me, changing us.
This past weekend I was in Arizona visiting family. I live in New York City; most of my Arizona family live in small mining towns in the southeast part of the state, so I don’t see them often. It’s very hot there, but it’s also beautiful. The highways cut through hills covered in cacti and scrub brush. There are low mountains on the horizon and lots of bright blue sky.
Much of my family on my dad’s side has lived their entire lives in Arizona. Many of them work for the nearby copper mine. They also love to talk and tell stories, so I when I’m there I spend a lot of time listening.
It’s easy in New York or in the Episcopal Church to spend most of my time with people just like me. Most of my Facebook friends are liberal college graduates and so are most of the people I regularly interact with at work. Leaving New York and listening to my family’s stories exposes me to a different life and a slightly different way of seeing the world. Many of their lives have had a very different trajectory than mine. Around kitchen tables my aunt talked about her faith and my grandmother recounted memories of her life in a small town. She turned 80 this past weekend, and so she has many stories to tell, some happy and some not.
Sometimes, I confess, I got tired of listening (they really do like to talk), but I was glad to see them. They welcomed me and my wife with open arms and made us feel at home, even though it had been years since I’d visited. They reminded me of where I come from and helped me understand my own life a little better. Each time I see them and listen to their stories they expand my understanding of the world just a bit.
Editor’s Note: Summer, with its longer days and relaxed schedule, can be a time of exploration or trying new things. In today’s summer ‘rerun,’ first posted July 31, 2014, Anna Olson uses a childhood memory as a springboard for action…
I have been doing something recently that I had not done in a ridiculously long time. I am making friends without the help of a fluent common language. Given that I live in one of the most immigrant-dominated cities in the world, it's really nothing short of embarrassing. But some combination of laziness, sin, and over-reliance on my fluency in LA's two most-spoken languages had convinced me that without easy language, there was no point in trying.
I once knew the skills and rewards of friendship beyond language. Some of the most important people in my adolescence were students at the ESL school for refugees where my mother taught and I volunteered. As a shy teenager unsure of my place in the world, I found welcome and understanding in relationship with newly-arrived beginning English speakers from Laos, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Viet Nam.
As a kid, I learned that shared food and shared laughter and small gifts could make up for many deficits in communication. I learned that speaking a little slowly and very clearly (but not extra LOUDLY) is a big help. I learned that distilling complicated thoughts and feelings into very simple words is possible, even powerful. I learned that beginnings are awkward, but that the very act of hanging in there together forges trust, and eventually mutual comfort.
Our community was blessed with the presence of a man named Wild Bill. For two years, Bill was a regular: at times a hugger, loving and wise; at times drunk, incomprehensible, and loud.
That was Bill. When he was with us, really with us, our community was enriched with knowing the love of Christ through Bill. When he wasn't fully present, our community was enriched by having to share that love of Christ with someone who wasn't always so lovable.
Wild Bill had lived on the streets of Chattanooga, under a bridge, for more than a dozen years. It boggles my mind and stretches my heart to think about what that means. He survived a dozen winters, outside. Wild Bill slept under a bridge, with cars whizzing by, over his head. He camped with friends, who he called brothers, developing relationships of interconnectedness deeper than many of us ever will know.
I first met Wild Bill (that’s the name he used) at Southside Abbey's worship on a Friday evening. Soon after, I was doing my best to make him feel welcome at Southside Abbey and I kept introducing him to people as Bill. He stopped me: “My name is Wild Bill.” As our relationship grew, I asked him: “Why Wild Bill and not just Bill?” He told me, “Of all the children my mother had, I was the wildest, so she called me Wild Bill.” He let that sink in for a most pregnant pause, before he let me in on the joke – he was an only child. That was Bill, excuse me, Wild Bill. Full of love; always ready with a smile or a joke.
When we go out, they come in. It seems like too simple a formula. But it’s by far the closest to a sure bet that I’ve seen in parish ministry. It sure beats, “If we build it, they will come,” which I have heard an awful lot of times as church-building advice.
Probably worth remembering that “If you build it…” is a quote from a 1980s baseball fantasy movie, not the Bible or any other source that even purports to hold holy truth.
I just counted up the number of times that we have “gotten out there” from St. Mary’s in the last year. By that I mean some sort of public demonstration of faith or public liturgy that involved leaving church building (and usually the church property).
Here’s the list in the last twelve months:
Palms and Oaxacan band music around the block
2 ½ mile walk with Stations of the Cross, band music, singing and Big Jesus on the back of a truck
Feast of St. Christopher
Patron saint for a group of our parishioners and neighbors celebrated with band music, incense, procession led by the image of St. Cris, giant puppets, dancers, lots of good and loud all-day festivity
A few lively folks in full costume giving out treats to the neighborhood kids; not terribly liturgical, but very popular nonetheless
All Saints Sunday
Mass in our church courtyard with band music and a traditional outdoor Day of the Dead Altar
Bilingual liturgy can be difficult, especially in our word-driven Anglican tradition. It’s worth doing when there is a clear community-building purpose behind it. Articulate that purpose. Don’t expect everyone to like it. Introducing bilingual liturgy is a little like introducing a new vegetable to toddlers. It sometimes takes ten or twelve tries to get over the rejection reflex.
Over the course of fifteen years, I’ve done bilingual liturgy in four different churches, and multiple public contexts. Here is my opinionated take on ingredients for a holy bilingual celebration (in no particular order):
A bilingual celebrant, or team of celebrants that includes an excellent speaker of each language: Lay-clergy teams can work if the clergy person lets go of needing to be the star of the show. A monolingual celebrant with a translator (or worse yet, a monolingual celebrant who is sounding out words in a language he or she cannot speak) is a poor substitute for a fully empowered and fully bilingual team or individual. People need to hear someone speaking with authority and authenticity in their own language.
Great worship aids: As few separate pieces as environmentally possible. Everyone should have the same things in their hands. I recommend a printed word-for-word, side-by-side, liturgy, well aligned, in large type, with plenty of space. Page numbers! And yes, you should announce them. Avoid separate booklets or books by language, juggling multiple hymnals, as well as any aid that presumes people will know when it is their time to respond.