A Place to Call Home and Other Realities of Future Faith Communities

As a United Methodist Clergy, I struggled greatly with what I want my community to be about.  On the one hand, there are colleagues and friends of mine who think that the Church is about helping people find a way to God and to a better relationship with Jesus.  That’s all well and good, but it just doesn’t seem to appeal to me to try to get them to come to this relationship in the way so many people see the Church’s role.

There’s the other end of the spectrum, one in which the Church is simply the ground for social justice organizing and the fostering of movements.  This is more appealing, but it lacks something and is hard to differentiate from all the social justice organizations that are happening.  Additionally, most faith communities are doing this tremendously poorly, likely because they are trying to accomplish between 3-14 different kinds of social justice and service related things all at once.  It so often feels like little is being accomplished, aside from general education.

Working on a college campus, civic engagement is down, mental health issues are dramatically up, and religious participation is dramatically down.  The work of campus ministry struggles every year to attract students who are not looking for traditional based religious groups.  Even parachurch ministries are changing, becoming focused at times more on civic engagement.  And this should say a lot about where the local faith communities should go in their quest for the allusive “young adult.”

Perhaps it’s time to start realizing that what we all (including myself) are looking for is a community of people to which I can call home.  I mean, at 32, life can be tough.  There’s a challenge to make friends, get together with lots of people (I’m an extrovert so apologies to the people who are hyperventilating right now) and simply to walk through this thing called life.  Sure, the reality is that God and the moral values attached to Church life can and should be important, but in order for anything to be manifest, it must in be in community.  The reality is that what we are seeking in this world of social media is connection, deep profound and authentic ability to be together in ways that we are struggling to find or remember.

Secondly, maybe the reality is that it’s time to split this from the social justice and service lens.  Maybe what we really need is a divided house, in which one side focuses on the communal being, the other on the corporate doing.  Faith communities deeply have calls to justice and change across the local and global landscape, and the theology of any of the religious founders speak to a need to change the world, but it seems as though this may be too many eggs in a single basket.  So one end of the house becomes the deep relationship building and holistically caring component of culture, the other becomes a genuine and directed call to change the condition of the world.  Organizations can be founded that are focused on any number of issues, a reclaiming of the social gospel movement might be rebuilt, and a new age of spirituality can be embraced into the faith communities that are currently fledgling.

Some will see this method as a diluting of the faith communities.  Where is the theology Cody?  You seem to care about the people but not the reason we are gathered?  I get it.  But here is the reality: most people don’t care anymore.  And what they do care about and what they need is community, connection, and something that helps them make it through the world.  In a world of loneliness and stress, of Donald Trump and violence, there needs to be something that gives them hope.  And yes, traditional faith communities still work for some, but for others, their need is now largely about making their way through the world.  We can be that, we should be that, and at the end of the day, our call is to gather people together.  Perhaps the reality is that the creeds and doctrines we have held to for so long, the need to have “right belief” is what is keeping us from being relevant.  For the thousands of students who walk past our table or our building every year, I tend to believe that if we could teach them and offer them a space that was devoid of judgement, full of love and compassion and hope and joy, they might be willing to come along on a journey. And they might put up with a little theology, but they would really greatly come along if they knew this place could help them find themselves and that there would be a way for them to engage in a world that needs them and that they seek to alter for the better.  Maybe it’s build the Church as a place to call “home” If we could just try that for a while, we might start getting back to the needs that world has for us instead of just the needs we have of the world.

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