St. Paul's in Burlingame, St. Ambrose, St. Aidan's, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Mary the Virgin, Church of the Epiphany, St. Paul's in Oakland, Transfiguration, St. Mark's, Holy Innocents, Grace Cathedral, All Saints', Holy Name of Jesus, St. Cecelia, St. Gabriel's, St. Augustine's, Sts. Peter and Paul, Mission Dolores, St. Patrick's, St. Paul the Shipwreck.
I have been to at least 20 churches, worship services and communities in the last four years. Since I moved back to the Bay Area in 2011, I have been guilty of going to one church because I resonate with their homilies, another church because I deeply connect with the music, another because I enjoy their faith sharing groups, and yet another because I experience their efforts of inclusion in a positive way. I, like many in this young adult generation, roam around each Sunday in search for the most complete, authentic experience of community.
The nice way to say it is that this young generation is filled with spiritual seekers. The critical way of saying it is that this generation is spoiled and highly selective.
For many of us who have attended and graduated from college, our schools have exposed us to experiences of mentoring, critical thinking, and service to others. We often think fondly of a powerful community experience that has guided our way to the people we are becoming today. Many campus ministries around the nation provide deeply faithful retreats, worship services, and spiritual companionship.
Then we leave those incubators of faith and mystery only to find ourselves in uncertain places of purpose with our jobs, relationships, and now places to share and express our faith.
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Although I regularly and intentionally select a different communal experience almost each week, I decided to actually become a member of one church about two years ago. I filled out the card in the pew, placed it in an envelope, and handed it to an usher. I received a phone call the following Tuesday from the parish secretary, greeting me with a cheerful "Welcome!"
I had actually worked in that same parish about 15 years ago, and the routine greeting was awkward because Scott and I used to work with one another! He proceeded to tell me he was surprised I hadn't been a parishioner until now but was so thankful I was "in the system."
Those words hit me in the pit of my stomach. What system am I a part of now? By becoming a parishioner, what have I signed on to? What can this community expect from me?
I soon began receiving letters from the archbishop, asking me to contribute to meaningful ministries. I am troubled by the inconsistencies I see and hear. I wanted to respond, "I am exercising my free will, my faith, and my conscience when I support the organizations, causes and ministries outside of this troubled, hierarchical church." When I give to my church or to my archdiocese, is that endorsing their most recent decisions to support exclusion and judgment?
No one at my college taught me how to contribute with conscience. We were always assumed to be poor and without, yet my high school students raised $11,000 last week for a good cause.
I am still learning how to be church wherever I am and with whomever I am with. The tension that persists is between the vertical experience of the hierarchy and the horizontal experience of the church.
So this Lent, as I wander through the desert of young adulthood and trudge through the disappointing experience of church hierarchy, I am consoled with the invitation to practice praying, fasting and almsgiving. I will pray each day for a clean heart, able to forgive and love. I will fast from those relationships that lead me away from God's joy, compassion and mercy. And I will give of my time and my money to the organizations I support whose mission is aligned to building God's kin-dom where all are welcome, cared for, and loved.
[Jocelyn A. Sideco is a retreat leader, spiritual director and innovative minister who specializes in mission-centered ministry. She teaches bioethics, feminist theology, Christian sexuality, and Christian Scriptures at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif. Visit her online ecumenical ministry, In Good Company, at contemplativecompanions.org or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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