Sitting in church one day, a lady who I did not know turned to me and introduced herself. I told her my name and then justified who I was in the parish by saying, “I’m Holt Montgomery’s daughter.” Dad is very active in the church in Oxford and through him, most people recognize my connection to the church. We got to talking before the service began and I felt a little embarrassed to say that I hadn’t been attending regularly. She didn’t judge me. In fact, she confessed, “I wish I could stop going to church, it might make me miss it.”
To tell the truth, I definitely wasn’t prepared to hear that. This lady was in (in my judgment) a demographic that was very devout to being at church. To hear her say she wished that she didn’t go just did not make sense to me. She went even further to say that she had even given up church for Lent one time. In response, I asked if that made Easter all the more meaningful to her and she said yes, that in fact by the time Easter came around, she realized how much she missed the church.
This month I’ve been contemplating, “Why, exactly, does my generation not go to church (myself included) on a regular basis? It’s a question that does not have a given answer, but is something that must be contemplated regularly.
Earlier this month, I posed an answer that maybe we weren’t welcomed enough. By my sporadic attendance to the parish in Oxford and the response of both people I know and did not know talking to me, I don’t think that is the whole answer. Could it be that my generation puts different things in priority above church? I know plenty of people who work on Sundays, and others that sleep in because their weekends are the only time that they can actually rest because of their job during the workweek. I know others who say they need Sunday to recover from Saturday night and its festivities. I have come to the conclusion that I cannot answer for my entire generation, but I can answer this for myself.
So why is it that I am not an every Sunday attendant in church? It seems odd, even to me, to fathom that I am not at church every Sunday. I am a person who at one time saw herself as someone who might be good for ordained ministry. Some days I still see that. I have friends who still see in me as a person of strong faith, although I do not grace the church doors on a steady basis. I’m more than comfortable talking about my faith at the drop of a hat. I do believe in God and am ever grateful for the obedient sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for our salvation.
So, what’s the deal?
I don’t know when this opinion started with me, but at some point I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t satisfied with what my church offered. I saw more and more that my local parish was infused with the same demographic: white, middle to upper class, well dressed church-goers. It seemed and still does seem stale to me. I didn’t see anyone like me. I didn’t see someone in jeans, someone who is trying to figure out what to do in life, someone who doesn’t have a family yet. I also saw a limited engagement with the service.
I crave a community of diversity, with a spirit of outreach and service, a place where everyone is engaged in the reading of scripture and the Eucharist. I crave a place where I feel comfortable with questions and doubts, where “I don’t know” is a viable answer. I crave a community that isn’t afraid to shake things up and diversify how they worship. I suppose I must be asking for too much. The communities here in relatively small town Mississippi hardly have the numbers for a traditional parish, let alone one focused on the fringe. A friend of mine was quoting a study on church attendance that said that it’s a normal phenomenon that young adults do not go to church after high school until they settle down and have families. Is that going to be my fate?
It hurts sometimes to realize that I’m not being fed spiritually by my church in town. I don’t want to wait until I have a family to get back to church. I recognize that an option I have is to attend another church in town, but I like and love the tradition and structure of my denomination’s service. There’s part of me that says that I should just keep on truckin and take the church as it is. There’s another part of me that says that if I really crave these things I need to take the bull by the horns and try and start that kind of movement in the local church. I think ultimately the second option is the answer for me. Demanding more and starting a change will be the way I can continue to be engaged in a church community.
The question then is, who’s with me?
Margaret Blount Montgomery is a young adult living in Oxford, Mississippi where she reflects on life, Christianity and being 25 in a world (and church) that is not so open to hearing her thoughts.