I am a Mainline Protestant under the age of 35. Yes, we exist.
I spend (most of) my Sunday mornings sitting in a pew at an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation, singing old hymns, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer which I have had memorized since before I went to school.
At age 22, I make an effort to get my dose of word and sacrament before heading to brunch on Sunday mornings. Though I love the beach, I found greater joy in singing songs and leading Bible studies at a mainline church camp during my recent summers.
I love the sound of an organ.
Unlike 35 percent of my age-group peers, I hold much of my identity in my Christian tradition. But while many are losing hope in the church as a community and institution, I experience a place where I can struggle alongside others and find support. There are many ways the church has failed us; religion is often used to justify gross injustices, leaving many feeling abandoned by the place where I have found a home. And sometimes being a Christian and being a member of a worshipping community is hard, because it is another responsibility on our shoulders and it requires us to give back.
It isn’t always convenient, but here’s why I stay:
1. Free wine...and grace
Communion: you get a sip of wine, some bread (if you’re lucky it’s a hunk of delicious bread; praise for those bakers in the congregation!), and the promise that your sins have been forgiven. In the Eucharist, we experience the bread of life, which is so much better than the on-sale, semi-stale bread from the grocery store. And especially after a rough week at work, where I may not have been so nice to all of my co-workers and been upset with God’s plan for my week, that grace through wine and bread is life-giving.
2. You get to use words like “trespasses”
People have been singing, praying, chanting, and experiencing these same words and elements of worship for hundreds of years. How cool to be connected to the communion of saints in such a way! No one would deny that “Amazing Grace,” “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and “Silent Night” are relevant to experiences today — and it’s not everywhere that you get to use old-timey words to praise a living God!
More free food! And sometimes you get leftovers because the families in the congregation feel bad for you, the lonely 20-something who may be ravenous for lasagna after eating only beans and rice for five days straight. But church community meals are more than just a time to eat food — they are a time for intergenerational fellowship and an opportunity to eat around a table and learn about the lives of other people. They are times for questions, discussions, and laughter. There are not many other places where three or four generations of individuals can sit around a table talking about what it means to keep the Sabbath holy, or how to live in election season as a Christian, or how embarrassing it is when you wave at someone you don’t actually know when walking down the street. Church dinners are another form of communion, where a community is gathered together and even if you aren’t discussing holy matters, God is present there.
4. You don’t have to be an expert for your skills to be valued
Being a member of a congregation, and even serving on a church committee, does not require a long resume, three recommendations, and at least three years of work experience in the field. I may have never used a paintbrush before, but the property manager is overjoyed when I show up to work-day, until he sees my crooked lines and sends me to weed the front garden instead. I love to sing, and though I am frequently off-key, I can join a choir or just sing loudly from my seat. And if I mess up, that grace thing abounds, so it is okay.
5. Networking! And community!
Since I was old enough to babysit, my church has been my most lucrative community in which to get job connections (though not necessarily high-paying ones). Many churches are made up of many different people that all want to help you succeed (we young people are the future, remember?). I have found mentors, friends, and even romance through connections at church. In fact, older members are often keen to set you up with their grandchild or another young adult who has been visiting the church. Plus, in times where you just really need someone to talk to, it is part of a pastor’s job to listen to you. There aren’t many (free) places around where such support is provided.
6. It’s not perfect, but neither am I
The church isn’t perfect. I do not agree with everything a pastor preaches or with everyone’s viewpoints all the time. Sometimes it’s boring. When we affirm our baptism, we commit to striving for justice and peace in the world and the church often falls short. But the failures in churches are not unlike my own. They are humble reminders that I am not perfect either. As a member of the body of Christ, I have found it easier to live into that imperfection while others are struggling right beside me. I may fail a number of times, but as a church we can work together to be the hands and feet of God in the world, working through disagreements and social debates on a path to glorifying God.
From the writer of the book of Hebrews, we hear a call for Christian community, which reminds me the importance of living into the fullness of that call by joining others in worship, service, and prayer:
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25