Monday, March 28, 2011

What Do You Worship? (Guest Post)

Alex McCauslin is a young seminarian and ministry intern at Central Woodward Christian Church.  One of Alex's assignments is to work with our young adults to create a YA community.  In a posting at her own blog, Alex writes about her encounter with a young woman who was cutting her hair.  This conversation about God, church, and worship raises some intriguing questions.  We know that an increasing number of young adults are listed as "Nones."  That is, they simply don't identify with any religious community or tradition.  That doesn't mean they don't believe in God or that they're not interested in spiritual things, they just don't have a "place" to put these beliefs.  I'd like to use Alex's reflections as a starting point for an important conversation about faith, worship, and a world that feels disconnected to what happens in religious communities.

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This experience has been rattling around in my head for the last week. I am puzzled by it, still.

I recently had my hair cut. The woman cutting my hair was in her early twenties (around my age.) She asked what I was doing with my life, and, of course, I eventually admitted I was studying at Seminary and working for a church.

“So, what religion are you?” She asked.

“I’m Disciples of Christ, it’s Protestant, like Methodists.”

She stared blankly at me and said, “I had a neighbor who was a Mormon and I went to church with her once.”

“We’re not quite like the Mormons,” I said.

“I don’t know. I mean, I’m a Christian.”

“Oh, yeah? What church did you go to?”

She shrugged. “I’ve never been to church, just youth group with my friends when I was in high school.”

“Cool, what kind of youth group?”

Again, a blank stare. “I don’t know, we just, like, hung out with our friends and talked about stuff. I didn’t really like it that much, so I stopped going.”

I nodded, and, deciding that the conversation was headed nowhere, stopped asking questions about church and started asking questions about her aspirations as a stylist.

Later, after a short lull in our conversation, she returned to the topic of religion. “So you work at a church? What do you do there?”

I told her that I was currently putting together an alternative worship service on Sunday evenings.

She frowned and stopped cutting my hair. “If you don’t mind me asking, what do you worship there?”

I didn’t even know what to say. I’d never been asked such a question before, and certainly never by someone who’d claimed to be a Christian.

I told her that we praised God and prayed to Jesus. That we contemplated our purpose, especially as it related to communities that suffered poverty and other oppression.

“That’s cool,” she said and pressed on asking questions about how we actually tried to help people. Eventually she admitted that she had given up trying to make a difference, as she had realized it wasn’t really possible.

As she was walking me to the front desk to pay for my haircut, she brought up the topic of religion a third time, out of the blue and with urgency. “I think I’m a really spiritual person! I just don’t know much about the church. It’s not really for me, I don’t think.”

I’ve heard this comment before. I don’t know what to do with it. Is the church not doing its job? Or is it becoming obsolete to upper-middle class Americans?

I don’t know what to do with the fact that Christians, perhaps myself included, aren’t prepared to answer the question, “What do you worship?” I’ve been thoroughly prepared to answer questions of why or how. But ‘what’ completely threw me off my game.

What do we worship?

ETA: Just went to lunch with a friend who started a new job as Youth Director at a suburban church. She has been observing their current Youth Group program and has concluded that it centers around gossip and chilling. She is appalled and eager to create change.


Reposted from Alex Discerns a Way.

4 comments:

David said...

To me, worship is giving thanks for all that is (not the least is love) and for the guidance to make the best of it.

The type of encounter she had can be very powerful to some people. Best not to come on strong. You done good.

Brian said...

I like Alex's use of dialogue. That will serve her well in CPE when she writes verbatims. Well done Alex!

keithwatkinshistorian said...

Bob, I have just read this column. The conversation expresses an aspect of evangelism that is probably not thought about enough--that there is a growing number of people with absolutely no understanding of the ideas and practices that are to be found in churches. These people aren't even "religious" enough to be labeled "seekers." What kind of event or activity would provide an opening for them?

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Keith, that's a good question. The Emergent movement tends to start where people are at -- and in their environment. Thus, you have a "theology on tap" event where the conversation can begin.

We're going to try this soon and will see where it goes.