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.
Our youth group’s revival started with a half-century old confirmation bulletin.
A member of the church brought in his confirmation bulletin to share with the priest. As he looked at it, he noticed an interesting addition. In the listing of clergy and staff members and congregational leadership, there was another line: the president of the Episcopal Young Churchmen. That’s right: the leader of the church’s youth group was listed (and in this case, leader meant the young person, not the paid or volunteer adult).
I’m writing this on the day after Labor Day, also known in our household as our daughter’s first day of third grade. In our community, most school-aged children have been back in school for a while now (my daughter’s school does things a bit differently), but summer’s unofficial ending is now past.
In the church, as well, we’re gearing up for another year of Sunday School and formation. Our Sunday School Kickoff Sunday is, as it’s been, this weekend, right after Labor Day. I’m very proud that St. George’s, as a community, has grown a heart for formation ministries. When I arrived as rector nine years ago, there was a dedicated team of teachers and a great, but small crew of children and youth. They followed the one-room-schoolhouse approach, and critical numbers weren’t strong enough. Teachers on the search committee told me they didn’t have enough volunteers to help so, in their words, “we all wear several hats.” In my first few years, as part of investing in this community – not just the congregation I saw regularly but the wider networks of people, many of whom have deep ties to this church – I met lots of children, and learned that this area is, in fact, teeming with young families and young children, and I also came into contact with a lot of gifted and spiritually deep adults, many of whom are currently some of our best teachers. Our Sunday School has grown from one class to four, from probably a handful of children to nearly 40. I’m proud that the addition of a regular Sunday morning adult forum has seemed to stick, too.
CNN calls it “the 90s fad that never died,”  and in fact Pokémon is on another upsurge. Nintendo’s new smartphone-based app / game, Pokémon GO, has been released in the US, New Zealand and Australia – topping the US iOS and Android charts within hours of availability – whereas the worldwide release scheduled for the first week of July hit some snags. The servers went live on July 4 in Singapore and Taipei but by 9 o’clock that evening they were shut down, apparently struggling to keep up with the huge demand for the game.
Pokémon GO is a new twist on the old characters and an even more interactive spin on the relatively new smartphone game, now inspiring players to not just stare at their tablets but get out into the world – literally go to different places to improve their scores. I learned about Pokémon GO this week when the grandson of a parishioner popped into the 8 o’clock service. He’s not normally known for showing up at church, let alone at the early service. “God moves in mysterious ways,” his grandmother said, and then told me all about the game – and that St. George’s Episcopal Church in Valley Lee, Maryland is one of the game’s hotspots! Pardon my Poké-ignorance, but I’ve since learned that at various places – St. George’s being one of them – there are such things as Pokéstops (from CNN’s article: “Geotagged locations, i.e. a landmark or destination, where you can get Pokéballs and other treats”); and Pokémon gyms (again, CNN: “Where you can battle your Pokémon with other Pokémon to earn control over different gyms, as well as other prizes. These are geotagged like Pokéstops.”)
Last year, about this time, I was walking around the downtown square of our County seat with Jason Evans, our diocese’s new young adult missioner. He was new to the diocese and had just come down to spend a few days in St. Mary’s County, to get to know the folks and, literally, the lay of the land. We wrapped up a productive lunch with some lay leaders from the local parishes and were taking advantage of a warm December afternoon to talk about that evening’s dinner meeting with 20 or so young adults.
“What do you want to talk about tonight?” Jason asked.
“I want to figure out their level of desire and what they’d like to be involved in,” I said, “but I feel like we keep asking the same questions, over and over, and getting the same results.”
He nodded in general understanding, said he’d give it some thought, and we talked for a bit more before I dropped him off at his hotel so he could have a few hours of downtime before dinner.
The question Jason asked surprised me. It’d been several years, for me, since God started tugging at my heart, nagging me to get outside of this institution called ‘church’ and meet my own peers, young adults and young families, where they are, where I would be if I were not the veritable definition of the inside-guy. But all I had was the institution’s language, the church’s vocabulary, and so I kept asking the same question, over and over again, and getting the same lack of results. I kept asking, “What do you want us to do for you?” And I assumed that if we did those things they would come.
Our season of Bountiful Abundance for our church school began with a Creation Day where 70 children and adults each created a personal mosaic. It was an amazing undertaking and took our artist-in-residence and our children’s program director’s coordinated efforts to pull off in just 45 minutes. It was a glorious tornado of creativity.
At St. Andrew’s we have used the arts on many occasions to generate program and build community. We are perhaps best known for our work in Stained Glass, having created four sets of 12 windows each. The sets are changed out seasonally, one for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, a Stations of the Cross set for Lent, A Stations of the Resurrection set for Easter and then a series with stories from the Gospels for the long Pentecost Season.
In 2007 we took on the construction of our North Wall Window, a major project. Twenty six teams created individual panels that were assembled in a framework, creating the 30 foot window that has become the centerpiece of our sanctuary.