You coloured pictures of Jesus suffering the little children to come unto him; you’ve worn tinfoil halos or tea towels on your head; moulded jellied salads are one of your comfort foods; your first crush was on another youth group member; and you can recite the stories of Noah and Moses and Jesus with uncommon accuracy. I am hoping you will find this copy of The Observer on your grandmother’s coffee table next to the mints.
I am sorry that the Jesus we served up at potluck suppers was so bland. That the God you met at vacation Bible school was so compromised by our middle-class morality. That the Holy Spirit we preached was so domesticated. I am sorry we talked about prayer and social justice and forgiveness more than we lived them.
I am sorry that we made discipleship so boring. Mainline Christianity, I confess, suffers from a bad case of caution and numbing orderliness. It is a miracle, really, that we managed to hang on to a few of you.
We love the church, what it has been, how it continues to inspire us. Church is where we experience real, if limited, love and grace on earth. It hurts our hearts to see what has become of it.
We spend a lot of time plotting to get you back. That’s why we got the band, spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter, and wear ill-fitting jeans on Sunday. Apparently, you haven’t noticed.
The second thing I want to say to you is this: You don’t need to save the church. You don’t need to save us or, for heaven’s sake, Jesus. Not that you seem worried about saving the church. Saving the church is a matter of idolatry. And saving Jesus is, well, silly.
Rather than saving the church, I challenge you to be the church. It is not enough to fall back on being “spiritual but not religious.” We all need community, places where we can learn, grow, be called to account, and pool resources and talents toward wholeness. Religion.
That might seem anachronistic, but I have been watching some of you — you who as children we tattooed with Christ — doing things that look to me like church, like discipleship communities.
You get together with your friends to eat, laugh, cry and listen to the songs that move your souls. You break bread and drink wine (maybe a little too much wine). You create community through honest conversations about love, good and evil, sex, politics, capitalism, the planet. You inspire creativity in one another. Some of you are successful in your careers and are grappling with questions about how to give back, stay real and guard your soul. You wrestle with what it means to be good, to be happy, in the 21st century.
Like leaven and salt, I see you marching in Pride parades, calling for justice for Palestinians and First Nations, prophesying to the wounds of the planet. You volunteer at food banks and shop at second-hand stores, trying to live simply so others can simply live.
You don’t care much for church, but you still like Jesus. You read your Bible. You pray and meditate and are sometimes moved to tears by the beauty or the pain of it all.
If you find a church where your faith and discipleship are nourished, praise Jesus there. But if, like so many in your generation, you are feeling betrayed or simply bored by us, move on. Become the church. If you are hearing the still-small voice, echoing from your childhood among us, calling you to servanthood, justice and love, then gather with others and find a way together. Be the church. Maybe we will join you.
Very Rev. David Giuliano is a former United Church moderator and a minister with St. John’s United in Marathon, Ont.
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