New Church Rituals
I have been serving as the pastor of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin for three years and one month. Bryn Mawr is a small church in a fast growing community, yet to date the amount of members and friends of the church has not grown significantly. This is not a situation unique to Bryn Mawr as churches big and small all around the country are wrestling with how to best engage the communities they are located in or near.
I have had numerous, numerous conversations with friends, colleagues in ministry, church members, and random people I have met. The one truth I have embraced is the need for myself and this church to be flexible and to create opportunities to move outside of our comfort zones in order to engage people where they are at.
One idea that has caught my attention today is creating new church rituals. My inspiration is from an article which was written by Carol Howard Merritt and published on the Christian Century website today. In the article Carol shares experiences of young people struggling to be a part of congregations where they don't feel like their life experiences are valued.
Young people being asked when they are going to "settle down" with that special someone or those who have married being asked when they will have a baby. You get the idea. So many churches are not great at truly engaging the challenges of our current world. So I ask myself and I ask my church: "How can I, how can we adjust and adapt?
There are people creating rituals for their churches to celebrate milestones in people's lives which the Church of the past either ignored or denounced as evil. I would suggest that by our silence, we are leaving millions of people feeling ignored and rejected. I love the idea of using and creating new rituals to mark the occasion when a sister or brother in Christ is ready to celebrate their sexual identity. We have the opportunity to honor and recognize and individual's choice of a name which reflects who they are and who they have always been. To recognize that this is them living into the fullness of who God created them to be.
In Merritt's article key questions are asked which I want to ask here as well. How can we change our focus from heterosexual and cisgender people to embracing all gender identifications? How do we stop looking at people as "not married yet?" How doe we celebrate life events for all generations? In short how do we show people love and value whoever they are and whatever life stage they are in?
In seminary I read Leonardo Boff's book, "Sacraments of Life, Life of the Sacraments." Boff shares about how his father's cigarette butt and the family's well used communal water mug are profound symbols for his life. He expanded my perception of what and where the Holy can be found in our lives. We need to look around us in order to connect with and create rituals for blessing the beautifully diverse people all around us.
If you have ideas for how we can do that here at Bryn Mawr or how your church in your location can bless and validate you and/or others, please share in the comments. This blog can be blessed by your respectful and generous thoughts.