My last post Goodbye Church, Hello God received the most traffic of any of my blog posts. As the day went on and I watched the stats climb, I read through many helpful replies, and then I started to panic.
While many of the notes sent to me were encouraging, I know my audience is diverse. I thought of all my colleagues that I had worked alongside to help grow the church for the past ten years. I thought of the confirmation and youth group kids I have encouraged in their commitment to Christian community. I thought of my family, my deep Lutheran roots, all those Lutheran pastors who tended the vines on the tree on which I bloom. And then one ordained Lutheran pastor sent me a note that has continued to gnaw at me.
Let me first say this is what I love about the church: it’s one of the few places where people engage with all of the living generations. At my former parish we gathered for the Eucharist in the round, all of us came together with our different perspectives to receive nourishment. I love the living saints, those who love to give, those who serve, those who listen, those who love, those who pray, those that journey with friends and family through the valley of the shadow of death, those who can find the words that need to be said, those who know how to let silence speak. I could go on. The church is not perfect, but neither is it too broken to let God in the cracks.
Here is a part of the note: “Unfortunately, the church of the Holy Comforter isn’t offering the Divine this morning, only more helpings of self service. Sorry for your struggle, Jess, but when Xers and Millennials continue to shop around looking for just the right church that fits their agenda, they end up with the Comforter Church. If I had a nickel for every one that has offered up your thoughts, I’d be a rich man. I am not saying this to discredit your search, nor your frustrations, but while Yoga offers very good things to body and soul, it does not offer the sacrament nor absolution.”
A lot has been said already on the tensions between the Traditionalists, the Boomers, Gen X and the Millennials. As an Xer I have spent most of my life alone in the church. My colleagues and church community were composed of people mostly my parents’ age or older. I kept hearing how the church wanted my generation in church, but then as one of the few there, I was rarely asked why I was there and why so few of my friends were not. It seemed to me that the overall values that the church held onto reflected those of the Traditionalists and Boomers: loyalty, social order, conflict avoidance, and a workaholic professional life. With much of my generation missing from the church, in my experience as a young woman it’s been difficult to find my place and voice among my parent’s generation.
I often shared this wisdom from Frederick Buechner with my confirmation students: Search for that place where your great joy meets the world’s deep need, then you will be on your way to discovering what you are created to do and be in this world. I loved sharing this with people because I believe that when we work out of our gifts we avoid burnout. We actually get energy from what we do. (And I have witnessed a lot of burned out folks in the church.) When Traditionalists and Boomers hold values of loyalty and duty above all, they can miss the joy that comes with discerning gifts and exploring creative ways to be church. I don’t think this discernment process is selfish. Rather, it is a practice of caring for self that honors and helps us discover how we are created to thrive in God’s image.
After ten years of ministry, I felt that I was unable to be the change the church needed. I assessed my gifts and found myself lacking in many areas, especially political savvy and boundaries (see how I over share on my blog all the time??). After serving on the COM for many years and working with our bishop, it seems the church is looking to raise up CEOs and highly organized managers. And I am an artist who loves working in the chaos. And so I’m searching… (God I hate to quote Michael W. Smith, but this song still makes me cry) I’m still searching for my place in this world. Maybe it’s in the pews. Maybe it’s beyond the church walls. I just don’t know yet. But I just love what one new twitter friend said to me: May God’s will be done in heaven as well as in the yoga studio.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the generation gaps and about your struggles and triumphs in finding a spiritual community of your own.