Relationship to the church: Although only recently an official member of the church, I have worshiped in Episcopal churches in various places for over 10 years, and I currently work for Trinity Church, a parish in New York City as Manager for Congregational Development.
I am deeply glad that the Episcopal Church desires sincerely to reach out to young adults--people aged 19-30--and that the church is taking time to listen to us. I hope that as we move forward together, the church will continue to ask and to listen. I hope that we (the church) will not worry about how to cater to young adults, but rather will ask how we can care for them. By that I mean that, while careful demographic study as well as strategic and targeted advertising will be extremely important [in reaching out to young adults], I hope that when someone in my generation comes to your church, you do not merely point me to a young adult program.
I hope that you welcome me as the church should welcome all people: with care and attention about who I am [in all my glorious particularity]. Tell me that you are glad that I have come. Ask me who I am (and listen for the answer); ask me if I have any questions about the church (and listen for the answer). Get to know me: ask me when do I feel most fully alive (and listen for the answer); ask me where I find beauty, and meaning in my life (and listen for the answer); ask me when do I feel deep connection with other people, with myself, and with God (and listen for the answer); ask me what is important to me--what I want to be about (and listen for the answer); ask me what I want to do with my life (and listen for the answer); ask me what gets in the way of me living the life I want to live (and listen for the answer). Ask me if and how I would like to be involved in the church. Let me know what the possibilities are for getting involved. Let me know about what goes on at the level of the National church. Point me to your website. Tell me about conferences and retreats. Invite me to get involved in the life of the church, because the church needs my perspective, questions, passions, and gifts.
I am looking for a place where I am encouraged to grow in life and in love, and in the sense that I am doing something beautiful and meaningful with my life. I want the church to be about the business of helping all people become more fully alive to the possibility of new life within and around them and I want the church to realize that it needs me and my generation to continue to be attentive and faithful to the new things God is doing. Do not be afraid to invite me to various events--church suppers and Bible studies and annual meetings--just because there are not many other young adults currently involved. If I have come to your church, I am interested in finding out what you are about, and I hope that you will take an interest in who I am and what I am about. This is not about getting the program right; it is about building a relationship with me-- a relationship in which you are open to learning from me and the ideas that I bring.
Please let people in the church know that reaching out to engage young adults cannot only be about getting more members to preserve the status quo for another generation. If the church is sincere about welcoming young adults, it must, as in any true relationship or sincere engagement with another, be open to the possibility of its own transformation that occurs in the encounter with another. And I realize that this is hard--especially for the church. But I think that this is what welcoming and engaging young adults means and requires. And I think the church must ask itself if this is really what it wants before (or as) it courts young adults. If this is a grab at new and future members, young adults will sense that and you will not see their serious, long-engagement in the life of the church. If, however, the church is responding to the Spirit and is open to the unpredictable and dynamic nature of life with God, then I think young adults will come and join in the work, in this new growth and sense of possibility.
*This is sort of a paraphrase of one of my favorite quotations from Thomas Merton: âIf you want to identify me as I am, do not ask me what I like to eat or what clothes I like to wear or how I comb my hair. But ask me in detail what it is I am living for and then ask me what is preventing me from fully living that which I am living for.â I hope that the church keep this as a guiding image as it reached out to young adults demographic reach and attention to young adult culture is extremely important, but please donât conduct it for its own sake or for the sake of getting more members. Please use it in the service of getting to know me and my generation better; in the service of asking me and the people of my generation about the deep issues of meaning and purpose in my/our lives; in the service of asking about what is at stake for me, what is important to me, and what keeps me from living fully for the things that bring meaning to my live. The church is absolutely equipped to engage these questions with me, and it is what I am looking to the church for.