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Free From Anxiety

69154_159334497430667_6799468_nIn my last post, prompted by Rachel Held Evans‘ CNN Belief Blog, I explored reasons why millennials are leaving the church, and the machinations we go through to get them back.

What I discovered along the way were the voices of Millennials who shared their own stories. I’ve started to chronicle some of them on the Leaving Church tumblr. Some of the stories are hopeful. Others are aching. Their stories (no doubt like all of our stories) are filled with an interplay of hope and despair, joy and aching pain.

It is into the heart of this world, and in the midst of a people who constantly experience these ups and downs that Jesus came.

It is into the heart of this world, and in the midst of a people who constantly experience these ups and downs that Christ’s church has been sent. 

As Christians – members of Christ’s body – we have been sent to accompany folks who have one and a half feet out the door:

I’ve got one and a half feet out the door because: I don’t connect with musical worship much; I’m not needed for the gifts I can bring; people aren’t that friendly (the 50-somethings want me to stay, but they don’t want to/know how to be my friend); and mostly, it’s not a place where I can actually discuss what I believe without some negative scrutiny.

We have also been called to come alongside those who are treading the scary path of joining the church again, or for the first time:

Really, it’s been on me to be strong and I haven’t necessarily done that. I reached out to campus clubs and parishes when i moved away to university and got immediate feedback from my new dorm community that they were worried I was a “Christian wacko” – that’s on them, but the fact that I backed off and hushed up is on me. I’m the one who wishes her situation were different, not them. But I do feel very strongly that it can be scary to have faith or be Christian if your community is non-Christian.

In response to my earlier post, Kyle wrote:

I have to wonder: what would happen if we stopped thinking about attracting ‘them’…What if we simply focused on being a loving, Christ filled, exuberant and passionate church filled with people who love Jesus and each other.

The stories of those who have exited the church are haunting for some of us. They might cause us the fear or anxiety of possible death. And yet, in the face of such possibility, God calls us to be faithful. As individuals, and as communities of faith we must be prepared to join Christ on the shadowy valley path to Calvary.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger once said:

“If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself.”

It seems to me that the talk about Millennials is really just code for our fear that the church might die. If we allow ourselves to truly and honestly confront our feelings about the loss of Millennials by looking such death squarely in the eye, our church will find its own freedom from the anxieties of death as it seeks to embody Christ’s gospel.

Perhaps then we will be able to let go of the pettiness of our machinations and techniques for “getting them back.”

Perhaps then our church will once again become free to be the church.

If, as Kyle suggests, we focus on being a loving, Christ-filled, passionate and exuberant church; if we focus on being a church that casts its lot with Christ crucified, setting all other things aside, we might just find that God works powerfully to do more than we can ask or imagine.

About Andrew Stephens-Rennie

Andrew is an Anglican lay leader who loves pioneering responsive, contextual solutions to the challenge of being church in the 21st Century. He serves as an assistant to the rector for Evangelism and Christian Formation at Christ Church Cathedral Vancouver and is a founding member of the emerging St. Brigids community (www.stbrigid.ca).
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9 Responses to Free From Anxiety

  1. One of my childhod memories. My father was the vicar of a church in a low economic area of a large city. After evensong we pprocessed behind the robed choir into a different street for a short prayer service. I have vivid mind pictures of people coming to their doors in casual garments obviously enjoying the moment and yet reluctant to come to a formal liturgy.

  2. I think part of the challenge for the Church in relating to gen Xers and Millennials is that these are the children of postmodernism, and have hence inherited the suspicion of meta-narratives. It’s a problem with our politics as well as very few members of these demographics are joining political parties, this is stagnating our society’s spiritual and political grown as it is, obstinately, leaving the generation of the baby-boomers alone with the reins in hand. I think there’s real potential for the Church to do some very interesting forms of outreach for the spiritual hungering of my generation (I’m 35, and a rare duck in my social circle for being a regular attendee) which is vast, I hear spiritual banter going all over the place, but it is going to have to be about leaving much of the trappings of the institution behind. One great ministry which the Church can get serious about which does attract the youngings, is Tazie and Compline. These two services do answer the stereotypical questing you hear these days: the meditative, calm, reverent, authentic, mystical, and harkening to the ancientness of a tradition without necessarily being warped up in suspicion of the Church. That’s one direction we could go, but that would also mean about leave the Church buildings to find mid-points in the culture where we can hold these services and entice the public to give these services a try.

    • Matthew – I know many Millenials who have migrated from evangelical protestantism to the Anglican, Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches – and has had a lot to do with some sense of mystery. I wonder, though about the idea of “holding services and enticing the public to give them a try.”

      I wonder – and I don’t know, as I’m one of those protestant evangelicals of which I speak – how the church is / becomes attractive to those with no muscle memory for the church. What is it that draws people in besides our worship services? I hope that we engage people out in the world (individually and corporately) beyond attracting folks to worship services. Worship is a place where welcome and hospitality are important, but if it’s the sum total of the way in which we embody the gospel, it has fallen short.

      I don’t think you’re suggesting that, because finding mid-points in culture will require deep engagement with the surrounding culture. Perhaps this is an opportunity for more experimentation, creativity, and above all, authenticity as we live unashamed faith-filled lives in the midst of our (various) culture(s).

  3. Hi Matthew – I am glad you mention Compline. Works for me too as one of the singers and organizers. I find myself as a baby boomer questioning how I relate to ‘churches’. I think I have a belief that the Anointed and the Anointing Spirit cannot – will not – leave any out and has called me to be to them as a gate. So what does it ‘mean’ to be attending church or to belong to a church. I am called out to be in the Anointed to all who I meet whether they are in or out now or in the past. There are many ways to belong and church must find itself along with community not excluding but assuming. I am reminded of the First Nations phrase, all my relations. But equally I recognize a substantial historical content – represented in me by the psalms – that teaches by example and is more than abstract.

    Note to technicians – the face book login spins but does nothing. I do not understand what I am to do next – I will press the only button available ‘comment by facebook’ and hope this does not go into the spam ether like most of my comments have. – PS – pressed that button and nothing appeared. But I am still logged in and will now press the post comment button

  4. Thanks, Andrew and all, for a good discussion so far. I think it is important to remember, as Andrew has implied here, that the Church is always a generation away from dying and always has been. So far, it hasn’t happened and, if we believe that ‘not even the gates of Hell will prevail against the church’, then, we need to hold onto the hope that it won’t whatever happens to Gen xers or millenials or whatever the term will be for the next generation. A couple of things in this post and comments caught my eye, so I thought I’d comment.

    First, comment by the university student about the negative social reaction to Christianity resonates with me as well. I came to faith while doing my Masters degree in the early 1990s and, from that point on, have experienced that look which takes away fifty or so IQ points when one admits to being Christian. Not that that stopped me because the excitement of conversion and, after that, my inherent stubbornness didn’t let it. Yet, I also didn’t say much. When a colleague discovered I was Christian because of a website I was visiting years later, I almost felt like I was ‘outed’ which is an odd feeling, I can tell you. I don’t think we can underestimate the difficulties of admitting one’s Christianity in this culture and in some circles. Media depictions have a tendency to be negative and that gets transferred and generalized to all Christians whether one shares one’s beliefs. One day, we’re liable to be smeared with Westboro Baptist and the next by the failings of a minority of Catholic priests, without regard to how different these groups are. That is a difficult place to sit and even more difficult when one really wants peer approval as is true in one’s teens and twenties.

    Second, I was also struck by Kyle’s advice that wondered what would happen if we “simply focused on being a loving, Christ filled, exuberant and passionate church filled with people who love Jesus and each other.”. So much of the strategies to attract millenials (and before them, Gen Xers) are manipulative or condescending. That is, of course, by Rachel Held Evans told us to stop using them. Manipulation rarely works in getting people to church and, when it does, it doesn’t work for very long. Attraction is a much more powerful thing and I think this is what Kyle is suggesting we do. I came to become Christian those many years ago because I saw it in action and I keep seeing it in action in my church community, my friends and the world at large. That is how the early Church flourished and that is how I hope we will as well.

    Peace,
    Phil

    • Phil – I appreciate your insights, and am especially interested in the question of how the church can be seen beyond its stereotypes (Westboro / Televangelists / Hatred / etc.). What was it that first drew you into the church? What keeps you there after all these years?

      My hope is that we don’t reduce any of our activities to the technique of attracting any particular group / demographic, but that we deeply engage with peoples’ stories, and the stories of God at work in their lives. This seems like something to pay attention to. And to do so, it’s often inspiring to hear the stories who have come to the church, in the same way as it is instructive to hear from those who have left.

      Appreciate your comments, Phil, and am glad we’re able to engage in this conversation.

  5. Interesting questions, Andrew. Here are my off-the-top-of-my-head responses.

    First, how did I come to church? That has all sorts of levels, of course, as one might expect, but I think I came out of a recognition that what I was doing to run my life wasn’t really working very well and, indeed, was failing to work pretty badly. I was away from home for the first time, my program wasn’t working extremely well and, in retrospect, I was dealing with very high levels of anxiety- both social and studies related. Add to this, that I had been drifting towards Christianity and involvement in a church for three or four years before this, writing papers about Christianity and such as ways to work out what I believed.

    As for why the Anglican church, the first, obvious answer is that a friend brought me to a service and I liked it. A more satisfactory one is that the church, whether purposely or not, let me work out my comfort level quietly which, to an introvert like I am, was I needed. My own family background tended to be suspicious of overt church involvement, so the lack of a hard-sell was just right for me. Instead, slowly I made tiny steps- going down to coffee hour, making friends with some of the students attending and such things. Ultimately, I stayed because I felt safe enough to.

    Now, why have I stayed? Ultimately, that sense of safety has stayed, even as I developed my understanding and practice of faith. I’ve attended three parishes in two different diocese, lived in a theological college for five years (as a non-theologue) and have become quite heavily involved in the life of our present parish, but I’ve never lost that sense that this is a safe place to work out my salvation. I realize that I am someone who needs community as a check against my own anxieties and my own tendency to distort reality, so a church works for me, even if I don’t always overtly say what might be up with me to everyone.

    Hope this makes sense and isn’t rambling too much.

    Peace,
    Phil

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