A few weeks ago we decided to post our favorite contributions from the last year. I reposted something I wrote in August about why it is hard to be a young adult in The Episcopal Church. It was a short piece that linked to two articles others had written on the topic that I liked and wanted to share. I am happy to say that I was asked by a reader (after being graciously acknowledged for my frustrations) “Have you been able to ponder any positive solutions?” I started to comment back to that excellent question and the answer kept getting longer and longer so I decided to make it a post (which eventually turned into two posts). Obviously if I had that much to say then maybe it needed to be said to everyone. Because the original post did not name my specific frustrations with the church, I think I need to name them before I can talk about what we could do about it. This post will concentrate on my thoughts about the Episcopal Church as it applies to members of all ages and the next post will concentrate on how we can use these thoughts to target young adults specifically. This is a topic that I (as you will see by the novel that follows) feel very strongly about. Anyone who knows me is probably rolling their eyes right now because this is one of my famous soapbox topics. I am proud to say that I think it deserves a soapbox, so here is my soapbox rant about being a young adult in The Episcopal Church Part I. I hope you enjoy and if you don’t please put me in place, I welcome that opportunity for growth.
I think my biggest pet peeve about our church is our lack of identity. We have such a beautiful message to share with the world, a very unique message, and yet all I hear when I ask people about Episcopalians is “oh you are the guys who don’t believe in anything.” I take great offense to this comment but how can I blame them when we can’t even seem to decide who we are. While one of the beauties of our church is our ability to be on all spectrums of the Christian belief system and not necessarily agree on the specifics of some theology, we do agree on the important things. We want to know Jesus. We strive to be worthy of the example he gave us. We love God. We love having a father who watches over us and is rooting for us to succeed. We embrace the Holy Spirit. We want something in our daily lives that is guiding our actions and holding us accountable for our choices. We encourage people to learn and grow in faith or out of it. We want people with questions and concerns. We want people that are scared, people that are tired, confused, hopeful, whatever in our midst. We are not afraid of being in the “mud” of life and getting dirty. We aren’t scared of what might be presented to us and we aren’t afraid of how we will answer. We like to learn from people of other faith traditions, we like to embrace those who are different from us, we want diversity, and we want to be challenged by life. We have a beautiful history of tradition. We embrace where we have been, good or bad, and strive to integrate it into who we are today and how we worship.
Why are we constantly paying all this money for rebranding when we don’t use the current brand effectively? How do we know it doesn’t work, we don’t use it! Why are we trying to control the font, shape, and colors of our shield when it, in any form, is our best asset? Why are we wasting time and money on possibly revising the hymnal when people under 29 and lay people oppose it vehemently? Why change something that is only wanted by clergy (there is 1 for every 118 laity) and people over 40 who claim to want us to be the future? Can’t we use those resources on billboards, newspapers, magazines, etc.?
I understand that people are afraid that our service can be confusing and stuffy to people who aren’t familiar with it, but the answer to that problem is not to abandon it for the sake of making ourselves more welcoming. The answer to that problem is to become more welcoming as individuals and more helpful before, during, and after worship. If we weren’t so afraid of offending people by being too pushy, we might start handing people who look a little lost a prayer book and letting them know when we switch sections. It isn’t hard, you see someone who looks confused and hand them your prayer book. Then you check with them every once in a while by glancing over and getting the nod that shows you that they are following along ok. Then after the service you introduce yourself and ask if they have any questions about what just happened. But instead of doing that we either print the whole service in a bulletin and render the prayer book pointless or we project it onto a big screen and let the tall people follow along. Both of which isolate us from each other instead of bringing us together, which is a great example of being unwelcoming. The only time anything should be projected is if it is in a different language or until you can afford prayer books. We should not be doing services outside of the prayer book which negates the need to project our made up alternative services. Why have a Book of Common Prayer (BCP) if we aren’t having it in common? Isn’t the common part the glue that binds us together, the reason we can be so open to that which is different? Isn’t it the reason we call ourselves Episcopalians?
Which brings me to my second biggest pet peeve, the fact that our personal joke is “go forth and tell no one”. I am just as guilty as the next guy of this theology and it has got to stop. We have to reclaim the word evangelism. Evangelism is not a dirty word even though we have allowed our more fundamentalist brothers and sisters to make it one in the eyes of secular society. We have a different type of evangelism, one that I think it is a better way to go about it, but it is evangelism. We usually prefer to be known for our actions and not our words but our actions open up plenty of opportunities to discuss why we do the things we do. We don’t have to start the conversation with faith but the motto of Make A Friend, Be A Friend, Bring A Friend to Christ would be perfect for us. When we get the chance to tell people why we are so deeply rooted in mission, they will know that our words meet our actions. They will know that we are a part of something that strives to be authentic. Something that strives to give praise and not get praise.
If we do strive to bring a friend to Christ, why can’t we take up the motto of helping people find their church home whether it is with us or with the mega church down the street? We are trying to bring people to Christ not The Episcopal Church right? If we bring them to Christ I am positive that a lot of them will either stay with us or come back to us because of who we are and what we stand for. They will see Christ in us and know that we are where they belong. We don’t need to shout from the corner but we should speak from the heart every time the opportunity presents itself. We don’t need to be afraid of how we will be judged and what people will think. If they shut themselves off to you because you share such a major part of who you are then they most likely are not worth getting to know right then, maybe someday but not right then. We need to own our message which is hard to do when we don’t even know the message.
One of my favorite presents to give someone is a BCP. That thing is awesome. It has prayers for everything so you don’t need to feel pressure to “pray well.” It has a guide for reading the bible in its entirety, prayers for everyday, short services, long services…heck most people use some form of our marriage service whether they realize it or not. Our National Cathedral is an Episcopal Church but I can’t name many people outside our denomination that know that. I could go on and on with ways we could evangelize without proselytizing and I am really bad at evangelism. I am sure there are much better ideas out there for this. Why aren’t the people who are good at it getting the opportunity to share it with those of us who are not so good at it?
Rounding out the big three assumes that we have a message and have learned how to talk about it without fear, then our next problem would be that most Episcopalians don’t know much about why we do the things we do. Confirmation courses range from a year long program to “hey the Bishop is coming and we need to look like we are growing, want to be confirmed today.” That is sad. I am a cradle Episcopalian (I have been an Episcopalian my whole life) and I learn new words, traditions, and reasons for those actions at least once a week. I worked for a Diocese, currently work for a Province, and continue to work with The Episcopal Church Center people and I still don’t know everything we do on a Sunday morning. That is scary because all those things mean that I am a lot more active in “the church” than your average pew sitter. And it isn’t for lack of trying to learn, I ask things all the time. But I am an extreme extrovert, most people don’t have the guts to ask because they feel like they should already know. The biggest sunday school class attendances at my former church were the classes where the priest either went through the service piece by piece explaining things or had no agenda and just let people ask questions about our traditions. The room would overflow. Let’s find a way to let our teachers teach us. That would clear up a lot of the closed off attitude people get when they visit us.
On this same vein, lets not forget our liturgical language (the way we talk about church) in order to seem welcoming or hip, lets educate people as we use it. If we knew what we were talking about then when someone said genuflect (lowering your body to show respect during worship) we could give the definition after the word to make sure everyone knew what we were talking about. I do that all the time when people use church words that most people don’t know. People are right that you have to translate to people when they hang out with too many Episcopalians. It can seem like another language but imagine if we each were doing this in every conversation. It would start all kinds of conversations about why it is called that or why do we do that or when do we do that. It would give us tons of opportunities to teach each other and talk to each other, aka be friendly. I mean, everyone wants to be bilingual right?
Once we have addresses these three things, I think we will be on the right track to seeming more friendly and welcoming (and in a lot of ways cool, nerdy cool but nerdy is so in right now!) Anyone who likes to know stuff would be beating down our doors to learn from our rich breadth of history. Even the people who just want to know secular history. We have tons of it. Let’s share it. These are all things our church should be doing for everyone. If everyone is authentic and real about who they are and why they are then young people will flock to us. There are also things that could be done that are aimed directly at young adults, which I will talk about in the next post, but the biggest draw for young adults is to find things that are authentic. We don’t get much of that in our secular lives. That is what is missing. That is why people will come to our church.