Every month ECFVP offers resources on a theme. This month we've asked 2015 ECF Fellow the Rev. Dr. Reed Carlson to choose five resources from Vital Practices to highlight. Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.
Who could have imagined the upheavals 2020 has brought upon us? Along with every other institution, churches have been turned upside-down. In many cases necessity has been the mother of invention, as with the explosion of online worship. In other parts of our common life, such as youth ministry, it’s been tempting to throw up our hands and wait for a better time.
We’d like to share two experiences of adapting to the pandemic, with the hope that they’ll open up some possibilities in your setting. The first arose from young people and their youth leader responding to needs in the community and making an impact. The second explores the question of how a youth group can safely gather in person again. We’ll begin by describing the unique setting in which these experiences took place.
There was that summer when a small construction project at our church and a burned-out Vacation Bible School (VBS) director meant we shifted from a traditional week of morning VBS to Wednesday evening intergenerational gatherings. And then there was that summer of major reconstruction when we couldn’t use the building or grounds and we opted to skip VBS altogether. Then along came COVID-19 in the spring of this year and the conversation and creativity took a whole new spin. Are we done spinning yet? Likely not.
I am a Christian education volunteer in my church and also serve as executive director of GenOn Ministries. For 60 years GenOn, a nonprofit organization, has partnered with churches to nurture, grow, and deepen intergenerational Christ-centered community. Excellent Vacation Bible School does that well. And so, in mid-March, we discussed how to support churches for at-home faith formation this summer.
It’s not often a resource can be used by both children and adults, as a formation tool and a gift for visitors, and as a celebration of the arts and the gifts of parishioners. But one congregation struck the trifecta.
Grace Episcopal Church in Anniston, Alabama, created its own coloring book with art solicited from members of the congregation featuring different facets of the building and liturgical accoutrements as well as local traditions. Published by the Christian education department, the coloring book is offered for the simple enjoyment by children and adults as well as for formation. A glossary in the back explains each picture. So, for example, an image of the aumbry might be familiar to folks who attend the church but who may not know its function. The handy glossary explains (along with a key for pronunciation): “AHM.bri: The aumbry of Grace Church is recessed into the east wall of the sanctuary near the altar. It is used to store the reserved sacrament. A sanctuary lamp hangs over the aumbry to indicate that reserved sacrament is stored within. The aumbry was dedicated in 1961.” Other images include the chalice and paten, the baptismal font, the pitcher used to hold the water of baptism.
There once were young parents who decided to find a church family with whom they might raise their family in the faith. Though they’d attend the occasional Christmas and Easter service, they wanted to be more intentional. They committed to attending regularly, and after a little, they began being recognized as regular church attenders. People began to learn their names and that of their little girl. They eventually met with the priest and decided to have their toddler baptized.
As their little girl grew, they began looking forward to when she could participate in Sunday morning formation. It was about that time when they learned they’d become parents to a second child.
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!)
Hi, my name is Erin, and I’m a millennial leader in the Episcopal Church. I am the Diocesan Youth Ministry Coordinator in the Diocese of Fond du Lac, the Episcopal Church in Northeast Wisconsin. I oversee all diocesan youth programs, like Summer Camp, Happening, New Beginnings, and lock-ins, as well as remain connected on both provincial and denominational levels. I also serve as the Youth Minister at All Saints Episcopal Church in Appleton, WI. In both roles, I work to recruit and train volunteers to help run diocesan and local programs connected to faith formation. This also includes Sunday School, Youth Group, service work, ecumenical events, worship services, and more. This is a small part of my story and how I continue answering the call to grow and lead in Youth Ministry.
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.
As a millennial clergy woman, I’ve been approached by folks when I’m visiting churches about “what millennials want in church.” My usual response is, “well, I can tell you what I look for in a church, but that’s not necessarily what my husband looks for, or my friends.” Despite what the media may lead us to believe, millennials are not a solid mass of young people (the oldest of us are in our late thirties) who all want the exact same thing. As every generation that has gone before us, we’re a diverse group of people who have different needs and desires in our lives, and that extends to church as much as to anything else. Thus, my advice to those asking the question about how to reach millennials and bring them into church is this: Be yourself (in my head, in true millennial fashion, it’s the Genie from Aladdin as voiced by Robin Williams saying this right now). It’s advice I give to the young people with whom I work all of the time, and it’s a guiding principle in my marriage and in my parenting. But these are good words to live by when it comes to being church as well.
The “we” I’m speaking of is all of us who make up The Episcopal Church, a church body split politically nearly the same way as all U.S. adults, and the healing I’m talking about is the healing of the division along political party lines.
I find it extraordinary that the denomination of more U.S. presidents than any other faith group, and indeed the place where the Trumps attend major holidays, still looks like the overall U.S. population in terms of political affiliation. The denomination of many early founders of our government, responsible for the good and the bad in our country’s early development, remains over-represented in Congress in terms of proportion of the elected body who are Episcopalian.
The Episcopal Church has an incredible opportunity to leverage our political composition, our level of education, our growing diversity, and our rich history to help our country heal the immense divide we are experiencing and reinvigorate compassionate, critical dialogue necessary for tackling the challenges facing our world.
I feel like I need to tell you upfront that I didn’t join Tinder to spread the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all of my potential matches. I do hope you already knew that. But after three years, a laundry list of bad first dates and a handful of short-term relationships, I learned that I have become readily equipped with all of the skills I need to be an evangelist. I’m no longer involved in online dating rings - moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Northwest Arkansas meant a swift and jarring shrinking of the dating pool. Also, online dating in a college town when your match radius only reaches the campus population you are responsible for pastoring to is an absolute non-starter. I’m now in an #offline relationship. Still, I use the skill set entrusted to me to by God, developed with a little nurturing by Tinder and OKCupid, every single day. There are quite a few transferable skills between partially blind dating and talking to strangers about Jesus. And maybe, the online platforms that the church has given side eye to are actually doing the work of equipping the saints of God.
Earlier this year Netflix released a binge-worthy series called Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. In short, the show presents itself as a voyeuristic dive into different people’s homes and attempts to declutter their spaces. Since debuting, it has quickly risen to the top of social media and buzzworthy notoriety due to a variety of reasons ranging from memes about Marie Kondo’s personality and practices to unfavorable discourse involving microaggressions around racist and classist undertones. Kondo has left a significant mark on the ecosystem of online chatter which has left many people curious and eager to find out more.
Interestingly enough, I believe Kondo delicately captures a hunger for joy and happiness that many of us seek beyond our secular domains of our homes. That hunger reaches deeper into our spiritual houses. You see, throughout the series, the individuals who come from a robust background of races, ethnicities, social locations, marital statuses, and sexualities quickly learn that what Marie is sharing with them is not just a practice to “get rid of stuff” but rather a way to find out what really matters to them as they move forward in their respective journeys.
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.
Sunday morning. Our teething five month old was up throughout the night, and my husband was on an overnight shift with the sheriff’s department. Throughout the cluster feeding, I spent more time than I care to admit pinteresting ideas for our middle child’s birthday party. It’s November. He won’t be three until April. Preschool birthday parties are cut throat. Princesses & Pirates at the local Children’s Garden complete with gluten free snack options - no peanuts, early in the morning so it’s not too hot seems to be the plan… unless someone else got to Pinterest before me. I need to make sure I book a spot first thing Monday or, better yet, I’ll send an email right now!
Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14 (RSV)
Being an old millennial myself (age 34) and working in youth and other ministries puts me in a good position to see all sides of the Millennial spectrum. For years, I have noticed congregations and committees at a Diocesan level talk about the young generations, especially how “difficult” it seems to engage millennials. But when I am part of those meetings, I have not seen any millennials involved. I have realized that it is easier for other generations to talk about millennials than with millennials. We must remember that the term is not the individual it is just a term to identify a generation. If you want to engage millennials, you must include them in the conversation.
When my father was teaching me as a young boy how to play golf he passed along one important adage: “golf is simple but not easy.” Truly, it is a simple game. Get the ball into the hole using the fewest number of shots. But anybody who has picked up a golf club knows that the game’s simplicity lures you into a false sense of security. Golf is anything but easy. One small miscalculation or error has tremendous consequences on where the ball goes, what your score will be, and if you ever choose to play this beguiling game again. Simple, not easy.
I am an old millennial (born in 1985) and a priest, which somehow makes me an expert on the religiosity of a whole generation. Usually the questions about millennials directed at me are veiled angst (“is the church going to survive?”) or latent anger (“why is my granddaughter having a destination wedding?”). The answers about millennials and our relationship with the church are simple, but not easy to swallow.
“I know there shouldn’t be so many guns in the neighborhood, but I “get” it; I understand why people have guns. People need to protect themselves in this community.”
“Everyday we are treated like criminals when we go to schools. We have to go through metal detectors, take off our shoes and belts and be wanded. I never get into trouble; I have always been an honor student. I don’t deserve this treatment but I understand why they treat us this way. I understand but don’t agree with it.
These quotes came from 10th grade African American males as they and three adult advisors (I being one of the three) were debriefing a recent neighborhood forum organized by the youth leadership council of The Advocate Center for Culture and Education. We were debriefing one completed series of community stakeholder neighborhood forums and we were beginning to shape the next forum series.
A Grow Christians blog post by Nancy Hopkins-Green
The other day, I was sitting at a table with a group of parishioners when a mother asked, “How do we teach and model stewardship with our kids in a digital age?” Speaking specifically about her desire that her children establish the habit of tithing from an early age, she spoke of the challenge of what to do when the plate is passed on Sunday mornings, when she and her husband give to the church online.
I have very distinct memories of my own experience of being taught to give at an early age. My parents had their offering envelopes – and so did I. Instead of participating in common worship with the adults, we had a small worship service as part of the Sunday School class. Included in that service were the small brass offering plates. My box of offering envelopes were provided to help me learn giving. Each envelope was divided into two sections: one for the church, and one for mission and outreach.