I’m not afraid to say it. Depending on your point of view you might think I’m crazy, heretical, and even possibly a masochist. Millennials have been reported to be less religious than past generations, and most people are familiar with how the LGBT community has been treated by the mainstream Christian church. And yet, somehow, I have been able to develop a faith and relationship with God. While I’m not going to get into my entire faith story in this post, I want to share a few things about my point of view as a Millennial person of faith and why I love it.
First you should learn a little about me. The first person I ever told I was gay was a catholic nun. I was 22. My fiance doesn’t consider himself a Christian. My best friend is an atheist. I attend worship, volunteer, and participate at a Baptist church on a very regular basis. I’m 28 years old and work at a large corporation.
I was a part of Young Life in my junior/senior years of high school and started learning about Jesus. I made the decision to start following him and then headed off to college, attending private Catholic schools. I was involved in many clubs, helping lead the ecumenical Christian club on campus and coming out in my last year. Soon after, I moved to Louisville for grad school, hoping to find a church community to call home. Enter my fiance, who was raised Southern Baptist, and who was dealing with a bit of spiritual baggage when I met him. He was still a good Christian boy then, but years after we joined our current church his views changed. He’s still a spiritual person and loves learning about other religions. He just doesn’t consider himself Christian. It is kind of the same situation with my long time friend who became an Atheist.
I ended up joining my Baptist church and getting baptized there because it felt like a place I could make my home. Not being from Louisville, I was in need of a support system, a place to be myself and have the same sort of community I had grown used to in college. It wasn’t the first church I attended, but from the first time I visited I knew it was right for me.
My church is progressive. There are long time members who are gay and have been an integral part of our church for a long time. I was recommended to try the church by someone who participated on a gay christian website I was also a member of at the time. While my church isn’t perfect, I feel like most decisions are made to further the greater work of love. We have an outspoken pastor who writes often to local papers and on his church blog, expressing his point of view on various issues, especially violence and social justice.
One of the first things I was privileged to participate in was bringing a Young Adult Minister to our church, someone to help grow, nurture, and seek out the Millennials of Louisville, KY and share (as my pastor would say) God’s transforming love. Emily Hull McGee is both a fantastic friend and minister who has worked tirelessly to start a successful young adult ministry which began as a handful of millennials looking for community. From that group (including Emily) grew a vision and strategy. From those ideas grew social and spiritual events like “Theology on Tap” (an event where we chat about God over beer). And from those events the church has grown phenomenally within the 18-34 demographic. In a recently published article at The Associated Baptist Press, Emily wrote this about our situation:
“In the nearly four-and-a-half years I have served as minister to young adults at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., our young adults have sparked our congregation to revise our membership policy to make room for members coming from other Christian faith traditions, to create an ongoing presence in the impoverished and underserved neighborhood a mile down the street and to consider actively how we might engage with marriage equality. They have even asked that we restructure our organizational architecture to more effectively carry out our church’s mission.
In the midst of this change and inevitable church conflict that followed, Highland has welcomed five young adults as deacons, 50 who serve on ministry groups, dozens who become members each year, and hundreds more who connect to our community of faith, all from this 18- to 35-year-old demographic.”
So what is it that brings me back to church and motivates me to participate (not just attend)? When I first started writing this post, Steven (my boyfriend/fiance/boo-thing) said this post sounded incomplete. He challenged me to think a little deeper about what it is that motivates me. Why did I want to write this post? What was the purpose? How could I show that this was an important subject for me? And why?
I reflected on his critique for a few weeks and I came to the conclusion that it really comes down to me wanting to share God’s love in my own way. Thinking back to my life during college and before church, I realized it’s been very much about helping others. I’m not the type of person to plainly share my faith, but I am the type of person to be present, listen, share my advice, and actively help however I can. My church has given me a way to share God’s love in a more expressive way beyond just my personal reach. If we’ve ever had a discussion about faith, and you live in Louisville, I’ve likely invited you to church. Maybe you came. Maybe you didn’t. Either way is fine, but that invitation is important to me. And that invite is always open, just like the doors of the church.
Church has made expressing my faith easier, but it’s not just that. When I’m there, I just have this feeling that I’m a part of something awesome. I’m a part of something bigger than myself. I have community to count on. I have friends to call home. I have a church family that loves me, supports me, and challenges me to be a better person beyond the walls of church. It enriches my life. I have authentic relationships, authentic conversations, and I’m able to be authentically vulnerable about my hangups with the Bible, Jesus, and questions like ‘Was Jonah really swallowed by a fish?’.
And personally, I think the authenticity is the most important quality for me. Church has given me space to create deeper relationships with people, something I definitely missed after leaving college. I think my generation is definitely looking for community in their life. Maybe not everyone, but I know many people who were/are.
If you go to church, what keeps you going? If not, how do you enrich your life? I’m looking forward to your questions, comments, and feedback!