Friday, March 13

Misinterpretation Of Motives

I have a disease. This disease isn't written in the medical books, it isn't recognized by anyone with a degree, and it isn't even a matter of physical health. This is a mental and spiritual disease. Since it isn't recognized professionally, I think I will give it a name. I dub thee: Woody Confusion. W.C. can be characterized by saying and doing things that are constantly misunderstood by the people you are saying and doing them for. It's symptoms include: passion, drive, dedication, and a lack of training. It is most noticeable in "do gooders", the people who are trying to make a difference in their communities. I find that in my work as an advocate for Young Adults, I am constantly encountering people who make me feel like I am dying of this disease. I think this is probably because of my own baggage, but it is also because of people's inability to see a larger picture.

I am not the kind of person that comes to the table with ulterior motives. I truly want to help young adults find a voice in the church. I want people to start realizing that we can't do this alone. We need the type of community that Jesus taught us about. We need to work together. Young and old, ordained and lay, Diocese and Parish, Diocese to Diocese, Province to Province, denomination to denomination, we all have to look to each other for guidance. We are all working for the same goal, to bring people into a closer relationship with God.

Maybe I am not trained in the things I am attempting to do, maybe I am not the best at hiding my feelings, maybe I am a human, but I just want to be of use. I don't do it to be praised, I don't do it to think I am better than people, I just know how hard it has been for me. I don't want it to be hard for everyone else.

I have been given the gifts of passion, drive, and the ability to speak for those who can't speak for themselves. It is not a gift I asked for, but I am trying to find a way to use my gift to glorify God. It comes with a price. I find that in my search to make this church more open to change, I often feel alone. I am often looked at as a person who is crazy. I won't back down and I won't allow people to tell me that the thing that I am working for is not important. It is important!

I have spent my whole life gaining the skills and the language to be this advocate. God has helped me get here. I am a human being who is full of flaws and who is just trying to figure things out like the rest of you. When I make a decision, it is because I know that my years of life experience, the knowledge I have gained over the last three years about this ministry, and the Holy Spirit are helping me. I don't always benefit from the outcome. In fact most of the time it just causes me to be less connected to the people around me, but I need to do it. It is what is right for the ministry. Please just trust in me the way I trust in you. We are all in the dark here, I am trying to help move us into the light.

Thursday, March 12

Article From Our Newsletter About The Pilgrimage to New York

“As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow.” A.C. Benson

Pilgrimage has always been a strange word to me. I have always thought that life itself was a pilgrimage, and it is, but I have recently begun to understand the very spiritual nature of being intentional about a trip somewhere. Wikipedia defines a pilgrimage as “a long journey or search of great moral significance.” Great Moral Significance.

When I first started planning for the Young Adult Pilgrimage coming up in June, I sat with that statement for a while. We decided that going to New York, to the headquarters of The Episcopal Church, would be a great way to get to know how we fit into a larger picture.

We asked for an audience with the Presiding Bishop because we thought it would be a great way to understand what The Episcopal Church wants from us and what it is doing for us. We want an opportunity to show her who we are and why we are so important to the life of the church. We also think that having an opportunity to explore our cultural and religious history and its significance in the way the church interacts with the community is important. And our last goal is to try to get a better understanding of what the church does in times of crisis, like our relief work after 9/11. I think all this plays in to the exact definition of a pilgrimage, a “search of great moral significance.”

I never really understood the difference between a vacation and a pilgrimage until I went on a trip to Quito, Ecuador, in South America. I never thought that a “vacation” could change my life in the way that trip has.

By going with a group of people who were also there trying to have a life-changing experience, I was able to transform what could have been any other trip with something that opened my eyes to the love and grace that Jesus left when he died on the cross. I was given the language to put my spirituality into words. Having people around you who are searching for a deeper relationship with God is essential to the spiritual growth of any person.

Here's what we are planning;

  • Leave June 20 and return on June 27;
  • The cost will be $1100 for an entire week in New York City, which includes flights, lodging, activities, and transportation while we are there;
  • The activities, which are subject to change at any time and are included in that price, are:
    • visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, The Episcopal Church offices, Trinity Wall Street (one of the first Episcopal churches ever built)
    • tours of General Seminary (the first Episcopal seminary), The Cathedral of St John the Divine including a spire climb, Ground Zero and St. Paul's Chapel (where most of the 9/11 relief was housed);
    • day of mission work;
    • a Broadway show and a show at St. Mary's put on by the Episcopal Actors Guild; and
  • The only thing not included in this price is your food. You will be required to bring extra money to cover that. I suggest you budget $50 a day, which is $350, but you can eat for cheaper than that if you try.
  • A non-refundable deposit of $500 is due by April 10. An additional $300 is due on May 8, and a $300 payment on June 5.
I hope you will consider joining us for this meaningful trip of discovery to learn who we were, who we are, and who we want to be as Americans, Christians, and Episcopalians.

    Lauren Woody

    Young Adults Coordinator for the Diocese of Atlanta
    For more information or to register contact me at

Wednesday, March 11

A Vocation Sermon From A Young Adult Leader At The Episcopal Church Center

March 1, 2009 - First Sunday in Lent

Year B

Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

“Discernment” is a word we throw around a lot in the church, most often in regard to ordained ministry. As in “She is in the discernment process” or “I have agreed to be on his discernment committee.” But it is also an essential part of each of our spiritual journeys and our lives as human beings.

In calling ourselves Christians, Children of God, we acknowledge that God has called us, we acknowledge the pulling at our cores: to be more, to be God’s, to live into our calling. And discernment is how we figure out what that looks like. It is the way we ask ourselves, “How do I live as a child of God?”

In today’s gospel we hear a three-part story of Jesus’ call and his response. For Mark, this is the beginning of the story of Jesus.

Part One: he came from Nazareth. We are told that this is where most of Jesus’ life has been lived to this point. His family is there; he has grown up there, been educated in the scriptures there, and has learned his trade there. He probably has gotten sick there, been cared for, been loved, and learned the cruelty of children there. Given our current understanding of developmental psychology and our faith in his full humanity, we can assume that it is there where Jesus gained a sense of self, both as independent and in community.

Jesus is, in this moment, leaving all that behind and coming to John, the baptizer, at the river Jordan. There are a lot of questions left unanswered in Mark’s brevity: What is he seeking there? Why does Jesus need John’s baptism? What drives him so powerfully that he would be willing to leave behind all he had ever known?

We don’t know. Did Jesus know? Or did he just feel the faintest of stirrings, deep within himself and head out to see what God might be doing?

A lot of young people make their way to cities after college. Many don’t know what exactly they will do, or how they will make a living, but they strike out, in hopes that, once there, they will figure it out. On arrival they these cities bustling places, and they scurry about frantically piecing together lives from jobs, relationships, chance encounters, art, food, and folly. Many can’t say exactly why they come except that it has something to do with a search for purpose, for calling. The city is somehow a place for discernment.

For those who have at one time or another taken this leap of faith, the idea of “figuring it out” is an amusing one. As though it were something one did once, and then having “figured it out,” one could spend the rest of life living happily into that.

Instead, there is this constant process of figuring it out, of discerning purpose, calling, vocation, of losing sight, changing, shipwreck, gladness, and discerning again. God doesn’t always make it easy on us, but we follow along, listening for the faint stirrings and inching our way closer to God and to God’s perfect vision for us.

And even when the whisper is a shout and the calling is clear, the means are not always quite so clear. As Jesus is being baptized, he sees the heavens open and the spirit descends like a dove upon him while a voice speaks, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Now, doesn’t that sound great?

Knowing where this story leads: the healings, the miracles, the teachings and transforming love – as well as eventually the cross and Calvary – it is tempting to assume that suddenly, in this moment, Jesus knows what to do. It is easy to assume that the Spirit has given him “God vision,” and that he can see clearly his Messianic calling.

But was this calling any clearer than the calling for us to be God’s children today? There are countless would-be Episcopalians in this world, let alone would-be Christians. When we hear the message, “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased,” how often do we sit self-satisfied, doing nothing? Sometimes we need a little push to do anything about it. And sometimes, it’s a push we have to give ourselves and each other.

Then we get to Part Two of today’s reading from Mark: “The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”

As Kermit might say, “Sheesh.”

Unlike other gospel accounts, in which the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert, where Jesus is given agency, Mark picks up the drama. Like a master, this gentle descending dove-like spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. No time for idle self-satisfaction is allowed. God is at work.

As part of a liturgical church, we too are driven into the wilderness with Jesus this Lent. By association we are brought into a time of reflection and discernment, every year for forty days.

Lent is a powerful season in the church year. Some will mock the New Year’s-like resolutions we make and attempts to make ourselves better – things like abstaining from small and large indulgences, or committing acts of repentance. And yet, there is something powerful about a season that calls people to make the connection between lived lives and the calling of God. There is something that makes us want to bridge the false divide between faith and the “real world.”

Discernment is not a singular thing, or something we do all at once; it is a daily calling, a daily wrestling, in much the same way that cutting back on caffeine is done one cup of coffee at a time, or building a stronger family means taking meals as opportunities for real conversation. Discernment is something we do in the midst of life, messily and with countless challenges.

Unlike other gospel accounts, Mark is short on details of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, but all the vital elements are here: the duration, the temptation, the threat of violence, and the sustaining care God provides. Forty days is Biblical shorthand for “a long time.” But even so, forty days is a long time.

For many of us, this kind of retreat into isolation is at least somewhat appealing. Forty days of alone time? Forty days to work on figuring things out? Discerning God’s call in my life? If only I had that kind of time, money, and discipline.

Our wilderness often has a different terrain. Having felt God’s calling, we have to figure it out amidst our over-booked, over-worked modern lives. Our isolation occurs within communities, families, and workplaces. Our temptations are many; we are surrounded by the gods of self and materialism, of exclusivity and pride, of despair and prejudice. The wild beasts wear different masks, but the ministering and sustaining presence of God is no less with us. How will we make use of this time, where we are, to discern how we are to respond to God’s call?

Part Three of today’s gospel reading: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”

For many of us, floundering in the wilderness is a familiar feeling. We are not comfortable with preaching the Kingdom, but this is exactly what we’re called to do as the children of God. We are the bearers of good news, the good news. God’s kingdom is here. No more waiting. The time is fulfilled.

This Lent we are invited to join Jesus in the wilderness for a period of discernment. Take these forty days to listen for God’s calling. Acknowledge your own isolation, name your individual temptations, and challenge the wild beasts. But also, may you see the hand of God sustaining you, and may you recall faithfully that calling of baptism that brought you here in the first place. So when Easter arrives, you may be all the more ready to proclaim with a loud voice the good news of salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ.

So that we may come to Easter having discerned more clearly God’s calling and live more perfectly into his kingdom, consider these words from the Book of Common Prayer: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.”

-- Jason Sierra is the Associate Program Officer for Young Adult and Campus Ministries at the Seattle Regional Office of the Episcopal Church Center. He holds a BA in American Studies from Stanford University and is a Priest’s Kid (PK) and a visual artist. E-mail:

Tuesday, March 10

Lenten Adjustments

So in the spirit of my new found appreciation of Lenten disciplines, I decided to overexert myself this year. I chose 3 different concessions to help me remember God's love for me. Each has brought its own challenges and adjustments. I chose the number 3 for the very obvious reasons, although I am not sure that I fully understood my reasons for choosing the 3 things. I had hoped to say that I gave up one for each member of the Trinity. Figuring out which one belonged to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost was not something I did until I sat down to write this post.

My first thought when I began to choose my "give ups" was that I needed to do something for the environment like I did last year (see last post). I am a very self righteous environmentalist. I think that everyone should care about the planet as much as I do, although I don't do nearly as much as I should. I know that being self righteous is not a good thing, so this year I thought I would do something that was more private and not something that would affect my day to day operations. So this year I decided to remove one light bulb (they are already energy efficient bulbs) from each room in my house to cut down on the energy I use. I took out a light bulb from a light that I use often, so that I would have to think about which lights I could turn on when I walked in to a room. Our house is very dark to begin with, so this has proved to be something that has really worked for keeping me present. It is by far the easiest of the disciplines I chose. I don't really have to think about it, it is just there. Like a fact of life. I feel this way about the Holy Spirit. I don't pay much attention to the Holy Spirit usually. It is always there and I am always aware of its presence, but it isn't something I pray to or talk to. It is my six sense. It is as much a part of who I am as each breathe I take.

My second give up was in honor of Jesus. I gave up eating meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. I picked these days in honor of Ash Wednesday (my favorite day in the church year) and my Catholic appreciation of confession (Traditionally, Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays). I have since found out that the 2 days I chose are very Anglo-Catholic in nature which I find kind of funny. I am sure it was the Holy Spirit leading me to those days, but like I stated before, I didn't even notice it at the time. I decided that giving up meat was a good way to remind myself of the fast and sacrifice that Jesus made for me. I make lists of the meals I will eat for every day of the week on Sundays. Patrick and I started doing this to save money on our grocery bills. Every Sunday, and every day I look at my list, I am reminded of not eating meat and remember Jesus. I have never been much of a meat eater, but Patrick is, so I have had to really try to cook things that will satiate both Pat and me. It has been harder than I thought it would be.

My last, and only actual EVERY DAY reminder, was to stop cussing. I have a mouth like a sailor. I blame it on having the last name of Woody. Kids, especially after Beavis & Butthead, loved to make fun of my last name. I was teased and tormented over that name. I learned to make the joke first and learned to be quite crass in the way I spoke. It has never bothered me, but recently I went to stay with a friend of mine who did not allow cussing in her house. I had always thought my potty mouth was something I could easily control, but I learned that weekend that it was not. I thought that giving this up would be a great way to learn to use my words to glorify God instead of offending the people around me. I have never considered cussing a sin, but it is not a nice thing to do in all types of company. This has been the hardest to do by far!!! It is most difficult when I am driving in Atlanta traffic. I have such bad road rage. People drive like idiots around here. I also have trouble keeping it in check when I am around Patrick. He also cusses a lot, so I tend to do it too. Every time I cuss, I pray for forgiveness from God and ask Him to give me the strength to think before the next time I allow cuss words to leave my lips.

Lent is a time of fasting and penance. I have tried to chose things for myself that remind me every day of those 2 things, and also of the sacrifice laid out for me on the cross. No matter what I must bare in this life, it will never compare to the suffering of Jesus. What makes you closer to God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit?

Monday, March 9

An interesting article on why Young Adults arent going to church

This article is linked from and was written by Lillian Kwon. What do you think?

Riverside Baptist Church in Denver, Colo., is defined as a megachurch; its worship style is a blend of traditional and contemporary worship; and the attire there is both formal and informal, according to a church directory.

Senior Pastor Jim Shaddix describes his church as "somewhat contemporary." It has a robed choir and a praise team, hymnals and Brooklyn Tabernacle songs, and a big screen. One elderly lady believes the church needs to incorporate more hymnals into their worship services while the twenty-somethings want to ditch the choir and the robes. "What is a pastor to do?" Shaddix posed at a recent Southern Baptist conference.

"We generalize this trend as simply a choice between the traditional and contemporary," he noted.

But Shaddix does not see it in that light. Young people, he believes, are not opposed to hymns. In fact, they sing revisions of hymnals sung by contemporary artists such as Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman. And they are not opposed to the organ, or else many of them would walk out of ball games. Pastors clad in a suit and tie are also not a turnoff to the younger generation who watch late night show hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman run their monologues in a suit and tie.

Beyond the form of traditional churches and worship styles, young people, who are labeled as the future of the church, are opposed to the "fabricated Christian culture" within the traditional churches.

"They're opposed to the lifeless and heartless way we often sing those hymns," Shaddix said at the second Baptist Identity Conference in Jackson, Tenn.

Many young adults are leaving the traditional churches they may have grown up in and searching for alternative forms, including the popular emerging church movement. Shaddix said such alternative forms are more appealing to "the marginally churched within our own camps" than the unchurched population.

In 1980, the Southern Baptist Convention baptized more than 100,000 18- to 30-year-olds. Twenty five years later, the figure dropped to slightly more than 60,000, according to Shaddix. And only 31 percent of twenty-somethings attend any kind of Christian church although more than half of them attended church weekly when they were in high school, he further noted.

"If that statistic holds up, our young Baptist friend who was an active churchgoer as a teenager won't be a member of anybody's church by his 30th birthday."

If young believers are not dropping out of an organized church altogether, they are being "captured by philosophies" like the emerging church, said Shaddix.

Making a bold statement that some Baptist church leaders agree with, Shaddix said that "both of those venues - no church at all or the emerging church - champion for a belief in nothing."

On a general note, Shaddix pointed out that the postmodern church movements downplay and depreciate sound theology, and that they will be short-lived as they are built on passing styles and forms, making "perceived relevance impossible to keep up with."

Young people are not necessarily running to something, the Southern Baptist pastor highlighted. They are running away from something.

And the standard answer church leaders would give to the question of what they are running from is the church form, the worship style, the traditional denominational affiliation – the tangible. But Shaddix believes the young believers are running from "lifeless Christianity."

"They're so turned off by it that they're running to nothing," he said.

This generation of young people "can see through" the emotionless expression during worship and the frequent lis! ting of prayer requests but the little time allotted in services for actual prayer.

"They can see through our hypocrisy," said Shaddix.

This generation has the gift of discerning authenticity in the church, Shaddix plainly stated. And this generation wants to do missions, not just study and give to missions.

In 10 years, the churches that these young people form will be churches that are built on a biblical model and focused on the Great Commission; are desperate for God for revival, for the transformation of culture, for the evangelization of the lost; make sacrificial callings to prayer that take priority over sleeping and eating; have a spirit that makes them accepting of all people and creates intimacy with God; and are always preparing financially to take the gospel to other places. Shaddix cited this future picture of churches from Richard Ross who leads True Love Waits, an international Christian group that promotes sexual abstinence outside of marriage for teenagers and college students.

The churches of the future are not focused on musical styles or denominational involvement.

Shaddix thus exhorted his fellow Southern Baptists to give their young brethren such an authentic church. If they don't find it, they won't stay, he said.

"The traditional church will survive and thrive if its people have a change of heart about their God."

Sunday, March 8


Normally I try to take something on for Lent instead of giving something up. I feel like whatever I give up is usually something that I wasn't really using in the first place. I am not sure if it is something I do intentionally, but it has always caused me to miss the point of Lent in the first place. I think Lent should be about finding an intentional way to be in closer relationship with God. I have never found that giving something up has helped me accomplish that. I just give it up and forget it for 40 days.

Lent is my favorite season in the church calendar. I think the Ash Wednesday service is so beautiful. The symbolism of being fully cleansed and forgiven and then taking communion is more powerful during that service than during our regular Sunday service. I love the laying on of hands. I sometimes think I should have been Catholic except for all those rules and regulations that would have had me excommunicated in the first few minutes. I like the idea of having a confession where I am personally absolved by a priest. I don't think I need an intercessor to communicate with God, but it does make me feel like I am not in it alone. Much like my Lenten concession dilemma, I am afraid that when I say I am absolved, I am just taking the easy way out.

So a few years ago my mother suggested that I try taking something on instead. The first few years were not successful, but last year, I gave up plastic bags. It sounded like a simple thing to do, but it was really difficult. I never realized exactly how many times I bought one thing and took a plastic bag for it. Or how many times they double bag one jug of milk. It is almost embarrassing how many plastic bags we waste. If I forgot my reusable bags, then I had to carry things out of the store in my arms. I started carrying a larger purse to account for those times when I was only buying a few items. I thought about God every time I entered a store, all day long. It was a great way to remind myself of His love and forgiveness throughout the whole season. It is the first time that my Lenten discipline had changed my life. I have continued my discipline to this day and every time I don't take a bag, I think of God and how much he loves me.

The Trials Of A Non-Tech Savvy Blogger

ARGGG. I just wanted to leave a short post letting everyone know that I was up until 2 am last night trying to get the three DAYA blogs in working order and they still aren't fixed. That would total around 5 hours last night, an hour today, 7 blogger help sites, 2 emails to the help desk, 1 reported failure code, and it still isn't ready. It is hard to try to keep up with the times when you have no idea how to use the contraptions that are supposed to help you succeed.

I will try to not be discouraged. The funny thing is I thought the writing was going to be the hardest part for me, because I write stream of conciousness (which is not everyones thing) and have the worst punctuation and spelling in the world. Alas, my nemesis seems to be the silly blogspot templates and how much you can not do with them. The good news is, I have been learning to code a little at work and I got some good practice last night!!! I was a coding machine and therefore a big geek all night. It was almost fun, but don't tell anyone.

Well, I know this post has nothing to do with young adults ministries or christianity, but I figured that if I was going to use this as my platform for people to get to know me, then they would probably need to know that I struggle with this stuff. Who knows, maybe you do too?

Saturday, March 7

What makes a Cast Away Christian? Reason #4

So we are down to my final reason that Yong Adults are distanced from religion and that is The Episcopal Church itself. Youth in our church are told that they are the future of our church. They are made to believe how important they are to the life of the church. They are coddled and given everything. Parishes will bend over backwards to help them pay for their ski trip or mission trip to Mississippi to help out hurricane victims. Parishes let them preach and even have a youth Sunday to show how important they are. Our Diocese even has a delegation of youth that allows one youth from each convocation to vote and be a part of the governing body of the church. They have retreat weekends, provincial and national gatherings to go to. I know that all sounds great, but as I have said before, every positive has a negative side effect.

The negative I see is that we are spending so much time "doing" things for our youth, that we are not equipping them with the skills needed to do it on their own. Very few of our youth have been given leadership training, so when they get to college or young adulthood, they have no idea how to act in the church. They just wait for someone to give them something to do, and most of the time the church doesn't do that so they are left to be a lonely pew sitter. We are good about giving money to youth groups, but most of our college ministries can't even afford a meeting space. Most parishes have a youth room, some young adults don't even have a spiritual guide they can talk to. They are left to go to a parish where they know no one and sit quietly in the back until someone notices them and says something. And when the going gets tough, one of the first things to go is that college ministry or the youth/young adult priest starts concentrating on the youth. It sends a message that the church really doesn't care about us. It says that unless we are willing to put ourselves out there and ask for help that we are going to spend the next years lonely in our faith. Even worse, we wonder why when young adults have kids they aren't coming back to the church. They aren't coming back because they were thirsty and we had no time to give them water. And if we are not careful, there wont be anyone who wants to come back.

All these factors lead to a generation or two who are lost. They have no family near them, superficial friends that they communicate with mostly on the internet, no church to run to when times get tough, and actual friends who are only there for them if they don't bring God in to the conversation. That is what I mean when I say Cast Away Christians. I have faith and hope that one day young adults will find a way to stand up and be heard, that parishes will know how to hear them, and that youth will be turned into leaders that know the right language. It is possible, we all just have to be ready to work together and figure it out so that the generations after us don't have to feel lost and cast away by the church.

What makes a Cast Away Christian? Reason #3

The third thing that makes a Cast Away Christian is technology. I get in a lot of trouble when I say this too loud, because I work part time for a software company and my boyfriend is a programmer. Most people around me see technology as the greatest thing since sliced bread. While I do agree that technology is a wonderful tool, I am afraid that we are relying on it too much and turning it in to a crutch. When I was in high school, you could use a calculator on all math tests. I can't believe that a math class would allow you to use an instrument that basically allows you to learn nothing but how to input numbers. I understand that people have used tools to help them with math for many years, but I knew kids who couldn't do simple addition because the "didn't have to".

My other issue is that as computers became more and more prevalent in our society, the need for person to person communication became less important. We are so efficient now that instead of calling someone to tell them something, we email them. Instead of going to visit our friends in far off places, we talk to them on Facebook. Instead of going out to lunch with someone, we text message them with what we are doing. I think technology is a great thing and that we have had advances in medicine and science that have helped our society become a productive and rich nation, but there are always two sides to the coin. With every positive advancement, comes something negative. And that negative for me is the loss of community. I think this is the number one thing that the church has to offer this age group. Whether we know it or not, community is the one thing that has allowed humanity to survive.

I think my generation is slowly starting to understand that we need community and I think the best place to get community of all ages, with all types of interests is in a parish. The man that we claim to be the only son of God, understood the importance of community. He was a man of his hands. He was with the people all the time, and even the people who were doing things that most people considered wrong. If we are called to be more like Jesus and to follow him, then shouldn't we be following his example?

What makes a Cast Away Christian? Reason #2

So I talked about the first problem plaguing young adults which I think is society. The second part is a little harder to talk about because it might hurt people to hear. I think that my parents (and hopefully yours) did the best job they could with what they had. I owe a lot to my parents. They have fed, clothed, and cared for me my whole life. I could always count on them when I needed them. Mothers put their lives on the line every single time they choose to give birth and I think, in this day and age, we forget that. Whether our parents have always done what we wanted them to do, most of them deserve our respect. With that disclaimer on the table, I think another problem for young adults is not only society but our parents generation.

The result of the "Swinging Sixties" is that generation wanted to break free from their oppressive parents and be free to think on their own. So they taught our generation to be independent and to think for ourselves in a way that no generation before us has. People in our generation don't get married until their late twenties or thirties, some move far away from home for school or a job at a very young age, some travel the world alone before they are even 25. Our parents taught us that our independence is our only weapon against the complacency of their parents generation. And with that independence comes a lack of learning to build community. We have learned to be our own support system when we are far away from our families and we have learned to live alone for much longer than the generations before us. Women can fix a flat tire or hook up TV's and stereos, while men can cook and do laundry. The stereo typical roles that required us to depend on the opposite sex have gone away. I am not saying that is totally a bad thing, but it does cause us to stop depending on one another for survival. We also have learned from increased news coverage that the people around us are scary, so we lock our doors and don't open them for anyone. We also are a much more transient generation who rent places to live for a while before settling on one place to buy which makes us less likely to get to know our neighbors.

All this leads to a certain amount of isolation that no one was prepared to deal with. We need to find a way to take the freedom that our parents generation fought for and apply it to this world. There is a way to show strength and independence without forgetting that, as Christians, we are called to be in community with one another.

What makes a Cast Away Christian? Reason #1

I began this blog by telling you a little bit about who I am and now I would like to talk a little about the Cast Away Christian Society. Cast Away Christians are Generation X and Generation Y for the most part. They are a new generation of young adults (roughly 20's and 30's) who are trying to decide what part religion plays in their life. They want to know how to incorporate a deep faith in Jesus Christ with a world that is confusing and sometimes hostile towards Christianity. I see four major reasons we feel like cast aways in the church and over the next few blogs, I would like to discuss these reasons.

The first is society and social norms. Being an Episcopalian in this society, especially in the South, is very difficult. There two sayings representing what Episcopalians are taught from the day they step in to an inquires class that make this statement true. They are:

Go forth and tell no one and Jesus died to take away your sins, not your brain.

One of these is a statement that allows us to remember that questioning and doubt are parts of our humanity and are important to our lives as Christians which is an integral part of the Episcopal faith. The other is a statement that is meant as a joke, but is true to who we are as Episcopalians. We are very used to keeping our faith close to our chests and not always sharing it. I think both of those things have made being an Episcopalian in this society difficult. People in our group always say "to our Christian friends, we are not Christian enough" because we do not adhere to a bunch of strict rules that require us to all agree and live by the same principles. But "to our non-Christian friends, we are Christians" which makes us the enemy from the get go. People in our generation don't know many Christians who don't want to proselytize and "save" everyone. They don't understand that we also are just trying to figure things out and that we just want to show them Jesus through our actions and not our words. It puts us in a very lonely category. And when we have no church body to help us discover how to navigate all this, it makes the situation even worse. I hear young adults all the time asking for ways to get mentors inside the church body who will listen and help them understand how to make it through this difficult time in life.

Just to clarify, some of the issues I just spoke about do apply to all Gen X and Gen Y people. We all have to find a way to integrate our Christianity into a society that for the most part is antagonistic towards faith. They see faith as a repressive thing that can only constrict and suffocate them from the things they like to do. If you cuss, drink, have sex, or "do anything fun" then you aren't acting in a Christian like manner. They don't want to be part of an organization that tells them that all the things they enjoy, things that society and our peers have told us is cool to be doing, are wrong and bad. They want to be able to have fun and explore a deeper relationship with God without the pressure of being perfect. I mean seriously, aren't your 20's supposed to be about finding out who you are and what you want your life to look like? Doesn't grace account for the ability to be yourself and make mistakes?

Who is Lauren Woody? Part three, The Now Years

So where does this put me now? I am a 30-something woman who is trying to find a way to bridge the gap between the early years, the college years, and the now years. I find it difficult sometimes to find that bridge. I am also a person who is just starting to settle down. I have finally found a way to weave my spirituality into my vocation. I have been through almost 5 different professions in the last 12 years, and I have finally found one that is fulfilling. I am in a long term relationship that is headed towards marriage. We are trying to figure out what all that means and when is the right time to "take the leap"? I am learning to accept that my parents are starting to get old and have health problems. My ten year high school reunion has come and gone. The first car I ever bought is starting to break down. I am hoping to buy a house soon. I don't go out to bars much anymore. My favorite activity on a Friday night is to have friends over for dinner and play board games. All this signals a life that is starting to slow down. I am reaching the age that no longer needs someone to fight for them, but can actually do the fighting for themselves. I am ready to fight and I choose to fight for a generation that hasn't fought for itself.

I work for a Diocese full of wonderful and supportive adults who are trying to help me figure it out. I have one Bishop who is our biggest advocate, who tells everyone he meets what a vital part of the church young adults are. He supports the work that we are doing and wants to be a part of it as much as he can be. Our Assistant Bishop is just as great. He has a love for young adults ministry and acts as my close mentor and friend for most of the trials I come across. He has even created a friendship with my boyfriend, who considers himself a heathen. I am very lucky to be trying to answer these questions in such a loving environment. I am so blessed and would like to use those blessings to help gain information for young adults in Dioceses that are not so lucky. I want to use this blog as a resource for people who are like me and want to try and figure things out.

Who is Lauren Woody? Part Two, The College Years

When I left for college a few months later, church was the last thing on my mind. I was still angry with God for taking away my grandparents. I went to a school with a great Episcopal College Ministry, but I knew nothing about it. I am sure if I had, I wouldn't have gone anyway but it would have been nice to know they were there. I took out my anger with God for taking away my grandparents, with my grandparents for dying, and with my parents for lying about her health by partying and not going to class. I partied so much that I did not make very good grades my freshman year. By my sophmore year, I was ready to leave Auburn and move home. When I got home to my parents house in Mississippi, I stopped my partying and decided to work on being a better human being. This still did not include church, because on some level, I felt like the church had let me down. When I "fell of the face of the earth", no one called to see how I was. No one called to see where that cute, fun girl had gone. It was like all those years of being involved were for nothing. I was a cast away.

It took me a few years before I was ready to step foot in a church on my terms. I had gone on the major holidays to please my mother, but I did not enjoy the service and I did not want to hear anything being preached from the pulpit. When I decided to go back, I started trying to find someone to go with. The thought of venturing alone into that place that had been my greatest source of community was terrifying. I went to other denomintations with a few friends, but it made me realize that I was definitely an Episcopalian. I finally found out that a friend of mine from college was Episcopalian (go forth and tell no one was obviously a motto we both ascribed to) and we decided to go to church together. We decided to go to a church were he knew the priest from his childhood. When we got in the sanctuary, the first thing I noticed was that we were the only people our age in the room. During the announcements, when prompted, we stood up to show that we were visitors. Before I could even turn around to get my purse at the end of the service, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was smiling woman, probably in her fourties, with a husband and two kids. She immediatley introduced herself and said "you are just going to love this parish. We went on the parish retreat last weekend and all they did was get drunk and tell dirty jokes. It isn't even like church at all!" I remember thinking, I am so glad I am an Episcopalian, because if I was a Baptist trying out a new denomination, I would never come back.
Just so you know, I found her statement to be very endearing. I thought "this woman wants to say something to me that will make me feel welcome and want to come back", but I am pretty sure that was not the way to go about it.

This brings me to the real problem I find in churches. If I go into the building and I am the only person my age then why would I feel comfortable? If I go and my only conversation is with a person who thinks my hobbies are drinking and being inappropriate or even worse, no one acknowledges me at all, then why would I want to come back? If I look on the pew card (which is usually a good representation of what is important to a parish) and the only groups are aimed at children, youth, and older adults, then what is my incentive to stay? I know plenty of young adults who have encountered one of these problems and it is leading to a church with no middle generation. It is leading to a generation of Cast Away Christians who want to worship, be in a closer relationship with God, and find community, but have no reason to believe that a pew is where they are going to get it.

Thursday, March 5

Who is Lauren Woody? Part One, The Early Years

I think that I should start by explaining who I am and in subsequent blogs, I will explain why I am a member of the Cast Away Christian Society. I am the Young Adults Coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Young Adults, in our Diocese, are defined as people in their 20's and 30's, but we have some members in their 50's who love to attend our meetings and events. I am a cradle Episcopalian who was very active as a youth in the Diocese of South Carolina and then in the Diocese of North Carolina in high school. I always thought there would be a place for me, a place set out for an active member like me. I always thought that I could walk in to any Episcopal Church, find a pew with my name on it and a little old church lady just waiting to tell me how glad she was that I was there. It would be as if the Holy Spirit had told them I was coming, and they had prepared a space for me. This is what they taught me as an "active" youth. Time and time again, I was told that I was so important and such a "light" in the church.

I had the sweetest church deal when I was in High School. I was a huge fan of those "mountain top" experiences (a term which I now really dislike-which I will explain in a later blog) that you get when you spend a week or even a weekend at an Episcopal Church camp. It was always a place where the class system of your average high school was non-existent. Any nerdy guy or non-cheerleader girl could find a way to fit in with the "cool" kids. It was a release from the pressures of being awkward teenagers, if only for a few days, and I ate it up!! I told you I had a sweet deal, and it was this: I was lucky enough to live in a Diocese, where I got to go to camp every three months for four years. It was a great rotation. I had Happening in September, Winterlight in December, Happening again in March, and Senior Young People's Conference (SYP) in June. It was great. Every time life was getting to be a little too much to handle, I got to go to camp and be rejuvenated again. I am almost certain that it was the only reason I made it out of high school in one piece. I don't think I thought about what would happen when high school ended. I don't think I was ready to grow up.

After I graduated, I went off for my last high school camp experience knowing that I was moving on to college and starting a new life for myself. When I got the call two days before the end of our session letting me know that my grandmother was dying, I was not sure what to do. I was glad that I was in a loving community, but when my mother said "they don't think she will make through today Lauren", I immediately lost all feeling in my body. And she was right, about 5 hours later I was taken out of the programming to be told that my grandmother was gone. She was the last of my grandparents. She was the last person who would ever hug me the way only a grandparent can. She was the last one who would look at me and I would know that I was going to be ok. She was the Holy Spirit incarnate for me. I remember being really angry with my parents, because they had encouraged me to go to camp and told me that her health was getting better when I left. I called my mom and she said that my brother would be there to pick me up in a few hours. I don't remember much after that. I have a vague recollection of attending a outdoor Eucharist before leaving Kanuga, getting tons of hugs and well wishes for my trip, and goodbyes filled with tears on both sides. I can almost define that moment as the day that I grew up.