In August I started as a new seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary; 2,700 miles away from home in San Diego. I realized quickly the importance of making friends outside the seminary and set out to join a young adult group at a church nearby…
Little did I realize what I was attempting to undertake. After sifting through countless church websites with broken links and information from years ago, I sent out emails and called many folks to try to get involved. About half of the time I got a reply or a call back, which was concerning, but most concerning, I found all activities related to my age group were centered around alcohol.
Theology on Tap.
God on the Rocks.
Sure, these are catchy, clever titles that make you chuckle, but what are these groups really saying about our ministries? Why do we feel like we have to entice young people with the motive of alcohol to join our groups? The answer is more complicated than anyone could ever fit into a blog, but we are going to attempt to talk about it today.
First and foremost, the obvious answer is that we are stereotyping this demographic. In 2010, 48% of people in the United States were under the age of 35. In the Episcopal Church in 2010 only 25% of people were under the age of 35 (Source). This is almost halved. In addition to that, at our last General Convention, only a mere 2.45% of deputies were under the age of 29 (Source).
We as a Church do not understand the interest or desires of young people in church or elsewhere. So when we consider what we need to do to attract young adults, we go to what we know best: alcohol.
Growing up, I always found it weird that the church, conventions, meetings and even General Convention, were so centered around alcohol. In my teens, the first time I was offered alcohol wasn’t at a party, it was at a Diocesan Convention.
As a young person with a recovering alcoholic parent, and many alcoholic family members, I felt weird about the Church and its, almost, obsession about making sure alcohol was fully present. I can make the jokes (where ever two or three episcopalians are gathered theres always a fifth…) and I can play the game, but what are we teaching people?
But more than this alcohol problem that the church faces, we fail to exert the effort for this community. What does it take to build a community? Time, effort, and money. When you host these events at bars and clubs, the community is already there; without the time, effort or money. People can feel free to come and join a preexisting community, around alcohol and attempt to explore their faith.
The problem with this is that we are still missing the vital church-community aspect that keep people in the church. From Sunday school, to youth group, to campus ministries, to theology around alcohol, we keep this group of people separated from our community, our worship, and an opportunity to feel fully included. This separation that we keep for decades instills in people that they are not full members in our worship experience and thus our community.
And then, we end up with people in their 40s with young kids that they want to have baptized, so they come back to church; the church they already don’t understand and we start the cycle over.
The debate is not what is wrong with the current younger generation. That same argument will be had for generations to come. The question is whether we are brave enough to fearlessly love all of God’s people. To fearlessly love all people, no matter their age, and invite them to fully worship with us (if we dare) will help create a full, beautiful, and powerful experience and community for everyone.
This post originally appeared on Shenanigans on Sundays, Jacqueline Bray’s blog.
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