Siblings in Christ,
I have heard it a hundred times but this time it came from the mouth of someone so wise, so open, so expansive in their thinking, it was like hearing it for the first time. “My kids are now nothing. My grandchild will be raised as nothing.”
We work hard as a faith community to support (grand)parents in raising their (grand)children to never know a day that they aren’t aware of God’s love, care and call into the world. Many of have responded to the demands of Christian parenthood faithfully. And still many of us hear that our young (and not so young) adult children are not interested in attending church. We hope they will come back when they get married. Some do. We hope they will come back when they have the first baby. Some do. Certainly, when it’s time to start Sunday School?
There are articles abundant about the “nones” and the formers who no longer attend church and don’t really see it happening anytime soon – no matter how carefully their parents tended to their faith formation. Parents and grandparents ask again and again: “Will my (grand)children have faith? Who will be their community throughout all that life brings? Who will bring them meals when babies are born and walk with them in tragedy? Will they know God?
We cry out in worry: “If you don’t raise your children as something, they will choose nothing.” To which someone I love once said: “You make it sound like there is something wrong with people who choose nothing.”
We even call people that. She’s Lutheran. He’s Jewish. They’re Hindu. Him? He’s nothing.
Nothing. I know it’s not intended as hurtful. But it turns out, it is hurtful.
No one is nothing. So who are the people that are choosing not to come back?
As we said, they are our kids and grandkids. They are baptized and confirmed teens, young and older adults. There is a growing number of us who do not align with a faith tradition. There is a growing number of us who reject organized religion in any form. Some don’t believe in God. Some do believe in God but haven’t found a church/synagogue/mosque that offers as much meaning or community as what they find in Sunday morning yoga and brunch with friends.
That’s not nothing. It’s real and it speaks volumes.
No matter what people say about God, people seek communities of belonging and meaning in their lives and work.
We get caught in language like: “They need to be in worship. They need to help with Sunday School. They need to pledge.” And, yes, those of us whose faith blossoms by engagement in a faith community understand the power of worshipping, serving and giving. And we must admit, we can have an understandably narrow vision of what a life of faith looks like.
The thing is, people are tougher to define in old, familiar categories and often less likely to participate in old, familiar institutions. Young adults don’t want to hear about how hard it is for us to adapt to new things, to learn new languages, new pronouns, new technology. While they can have a great interest in history, they don’t find “we have always done it that way” a compelling reason to keep doing anything.
They do ask that we respect them as full human partners, we pay attention to what matters to them and we try and learn. To be willing to stretch until our muscles ache with the effort. And to not judge when their spiritual lives are painted a different color than our own.
As the body of Christ, our challenge is to trust Christ. To trust that God’s work is not limited to membership rosters and church buildings. Those of us who find joy, community and the presence of God in a worshipping community can celebrate and give thanks. And trust that the holy work of forming faith is never in vain. God continues to work in and through people in every walk of life. What might it mean for us to be alert to God’s work in those we might have once worried were going to be a “nothing”?
We who have committed our lives to the Gospel of Christ, understand the call to tell the story and to enfold all people in the crazy, capacious grace of God. Trinity works hard to connect the good news of Jesus Christ with the lives of human beings in all walks of life. We work hard to create a community of belonging and to support people in finding meaning in their lives and work. We seek to know God. And we will continue to do so.
Even as we live in hope of being surprised by God,