By Ansley Brackin
Communications Specialist and Young Adult of the United Methodist Church
The Conference Young Adult retreat was a perfect opportunity for young people in all walks of life to come together at Glisson and find reassurance in their faith and how they are called to harvest a Christian community in today’s world.
We were joined by Rachel Held Evans, a well know Christian writer and blogger, who described the struggles of being young Christians in a world that seems to grow more and more at odds with our discipleship and way of living. She set a fun yet meaningful tone for the weekend during the first worship service where she campaigned to “keep the church weird.”
We discussed how churches struggle to reach our age group. Some try to advertise to us in secular ways with coffee bars and dramatic lighting, but we don’t come to church to shop or for a show. We come for truth, community, and acceptance. We come because we are flawed and we want to be understood. Worship, of all things, shouldn’t ring of inauthenticity.
Evans spoke of how people of the church often don’t want others to see what the “before” Jesus face looks like; and, truthfully, has any Christian ever felt pristine and flawless after discovering faith?
We are often met with more challenges and temptations after exploring our faith. Evil loves to test our faithfulness, our humanness. When this happens, some churches tend to turn away rather than provide a light or a sense of commonality. It’s a natural response for young people to become angry and walk away.
Difficult life phases are easier to handle when we feel uplifted by our congregation rather than ignored. The discussion rang true to me because I remember attending a church for a year where people continuously had trouble remembering my name or that I was even a frequent worshipper. It was degrading and made my seasons of hardship seem hopeless.
The glory of my job in Conference Communications has been hearing and writing stories on United Methodist churches that are finding unique ways to get to know their communities and give their congregations the connections that they need. It has reassured my faith and love for my Christian community. We are doing great things but we need to do more. We have to heal the hurting that has been caused in the past.
I resonated with the idea that our approach should be rawer and less of a song and dance.
Evans spoke of this best this weekend when she said, “Successful churches look more like AA than country clubs.”
How different would the church look if everyone walked into worship and addressed themselves by their imperfections?
“Hello, my name is Ansley, and I struggle with forgiveness and feelings of worthlessness.”
Would you feel safe saying these things to your congregation? What if those confessions were all met by the same response?
“This is Christ’s body broken for you.”
“People bond more over shared brokenness than shared belief,” Evans stated.
Young adults battle problems with relationships, the economy, maturity, and peer pressure. These are tough and terrifying years where mistakes are inevitable and we are starving for connection.
We may be creating a barred list where there should never be one.
Evans suggested, “What makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it leaves out but who it lets in”.
This weekend I saw a variety of young people excitedly pack meals for Smart Lunch, Smart Kid and create a work of art together out of the nature surrounding Glisson. The retreat weekend was open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 35, and everyone worked together beautifully, no exceptions. Shy people, outgoing people, creative people, analytical people, Methodists and Non-Methodists -- they all participated with joy, reception, and enthusiasm.
As an artist, I particularly enjoyed watching so many participants come together to create something unique during the optional art session. We were given time to paint our own pieces as well. I looked up a couple of hours later to find that not only had I painted through our “free time” before dinner, but so had the rest of the group.
Being that I find painting to be a stress reliever, it was nice to look up to see everyone else appreciating that time of content and simplicity. Cate Miller did a great job of providing a comfortable space for everyone’s minds to wander creatively as they covered their canvases. Everyone was enamored by her vibrant painting reflection she completed during the Saturday night service- a routine she has become accustomed to at Eastside Church.
That night Rev. Eric Lee of Roswell UMC spoke about the fear of the demise of the church, something Evans had also touched on earlier. If you read the comments on any social media posting, you may have felt this fear as well, as people argue over when and where to pray, and people on both sides laugh at each other’s beliefs.
As I am one to prepare for the worst, I personally loved how both speakers tackled this issue. Neither portrayed a death as a bad thing, but more as a resurrection.
“Death is something empires fear. It is not something that people of the resurrection fear,” Evans proclaimed.
Lee quoted Revelations 21:1-5