We met twenty years ago in, of all places, a church. I know it was twenty years ago because The Lovely Daughter was a newborn, and I say "of all places" because, for many of us, church was an unlikely destination. The reasons were various but there we were, a group of couples with young children, trying to figure out how to live as families and a group of mothers, in particular, starving for adult companionship.
Snapshot, maybe fifteen years ago: our group has expanded a bit, but most of us are connected in significant ways to the same Methodist church. We serve on boards and committees and take classes and run events. Many of the children attend the church's cooperative nursery school, and their mothers duly take turns on the school's board. Our social lives center around events at church and events of our own in which we all participate with energy and enthusiasm.
Snapshot, oh, say, last week: the families are a good deal more tattered these days. Divorces, a couple of remarriages, some of the young adult children struggling to accomodate to the "adult" part of their identities, parents who are veterans of layoffs and any number of unexpected battles with finances, illnesses, and others of life's myriad curveballs. A couple of the families are still active in the Methodist church, where a major new addition has engaged the services of those who are architects for the past few years. I'm down the street with the Presbies. None of the children have any church involvement, and many of the adults have let it go as well.
Saturday mornings usually find me at a local bakery/coffee shop with a group of the moms. This morning I went with a mission in mind and was disappointed that only two others showed up ~ we all see so much of each other during the holiday season that I suppose most felt that today could slide ~ but I went ahead with the two questions I had for them:
Do you feel that you have a religious, or some kind of spiritual life, whether on your own or with your family?
Is there any way in which you could foresee church as having any appeal for you in the future?
I didn't ask those questions with publication in mind and I don't want to violate the privacy of my dearest friends, even in my pretty-much-anonymous blog. But I do think that some of what they said generally bears consideration for those of us who care about the church, however we encounter or define it. These are women, after all, who were at one time deeply engaged in the life of their church and full of hope that they and their husbands and children would continue in that pattern.
Both of them deem their lives spiritual, although their definitions were, to my way of seeing things, vague and had little to do with the 2,000 year old tradition of Christian spirituality -- or any other tradition of spiriutality, for that matter. Their disinterest in Christianity isn't connected to an exploration of Zen or an attraction to another faith, for instance. It's more in the way of a sense that traditional religion of whatever persuasion has little to offer in terms of an expression of that part of our lives that we would identify in some way as spiritual; a sense that that part of our lives is best engaged individually, in private, in the realm of every-dayness.
I hasten to add that my interpretation of what I heard is not necessarily complete and therefore, not necessarily accurate. I'm just doing the best I can with what I have at the moment.
With respect to the second question, I heard nothing that would indicate any attraction to the church as an institution, as a community, as a place of worship, or as a locus for encounter with God. Among the (many) reasons I have become interested in the issue of adults and the church is the recognition, as described in the blog Mark Time several days ago, that people are often hurt by the church: by its cliqueiness, by its narrow-mindedness, by its mistakes in judgment and process that are perceived as personal slights, by its inability to frame and sustain genuine welcome and hospitality. And I heard about all those things in some detail this morning. Most of the stories I knew well, and many concerned events that I had at one time or another sloughed off fairly easily. But I tried to listen really, really carefully this morning, and what strikes me now is the incredible height of the standard to which we want to hold the church. As beaten and bruised as it is, we still want it to be the insitution in which people behave differently than they do elsewhere, and we are truly and deeply devastated when they do not.
Another interest of mine: I have been wandering around thinking that as we age, my generation of Boomers is going to become more interested in end-of-life and, therefore, spiritual issues, and may turn to the church for answers and support. It seems that I might be completely wrong on that one. Neither of my friends see the church as a place in which she wants to invest energy or committment, even in exchange for support and practical services as parents die and we ourselves grow older. They expressed no interest in having long-term connections with a pastor or congregation; no sense that it might be desirable to have anything more than a drop-in relationship with respect to a worship service or a funeral. (Or, I suppose, a wedding ~ the type of event we moms are most likely to be planning in the next decade.)
My husband is not in any way religious and so, when I talked this all over with him awhile ago, he asked the question I had been trying to unearth. "What is church for, anyway?"
I suppose I could write for hours on my own relationship with the church: on my understanding of the interrelationship among tradition, community, and spirituality and how essential each is to the others; and on how those portions of my spiritual life which are indeed private and individual, some of them shared at most with just one or two other people, exist only in the context of the scripture and traditions of a history of (so I believe) revelation and relationship.
I have no argument with the discovery of relationship with God in both the beauties and the challenges of the natural world, of human relationship, of daily endeavor. I know that we can find God in all things. But it seems to me that without the community, the texts, the traditions of the church, we lose access to much of the story.
But ~ enough of me. I would love to see some dialogue around this topic.
What do you think, dear readers?