When I listen to my running mates who are in their twenties, they tell me the church is irrelevant. “To tell you the truth,” one friend told me, “I don’t even think about organized religion anymore. My generation has moved on to other things.” A neighbor recounted similar thoughts: “When I came to Baltimore three years ago, I went to an event that combined information about community engagement, meeting other young folks, and beer tasting, and that led me to THREAD. Have you ever heard of that organization,” he asked me. “I’m not sure religion understands what’s meaningful to people my age,” he continued. The team captain at Back on My Feet said to me one morning before dawn, as we rounded Mt. Vernon Square, “When I was a teenager, the church missed the boat on human sexuality and gender identity—good friends of mine felt excluded—so I gave up on religion in solidarity with them.” My whole block near Patterson Park is taking concrete steps toward making Baltimore more inclusive, more vibrant, better at educating its children, and safer for everybody, but only one family calls themselves religious. “The Christians I grew up with were talkers not doers, and that seemed wrong,” my friend across the street told me last week, “So I’m really interested to know how you and your wife have stayed in the church and kept your integrity.”
I don’t think the young people I’m listening to are unusual. Their movement away from organized religion is not reactive—it is a thoughtful, considered response to how the tradition inadvertently got stuck propping itself up instead of running to connect with what matters, which sometimes beats most strongly in the hearts of teenagers and young adults. The movement that crystallized around Jesus 2000 years ago found its energy then in reforming the good but misguided intentions of the power structure, which had lost touch with the living spirit of God on the margins of polite society: with women and the poor, with the sick and the lost, with the stranger and the refugee. Jesus’s vision was to recreate God’s beloved community, and he did that by reminding the religious community that their work was justice, not piety. So it seems possible that the palpable rejection of our “old ways” by 15-to-30-year-olds today is in fact a call to discover again what following the living God really means.
The Vestry and I are responding to this call by creating a new Associate for Youth position, an additional full time person to be added to our clergy team. This exciting vision is to add a young leader who will re-imagine ministry to and for young people, from 6th grade to 30 years. I have interviewed candidates by phone and in person, and an advisory committee will now consider five individuals and make a recommendation to me. Each of the applicants is currently employed and is not available until the new year, most likely after Easter. To create program continuity between Paul Smith’s departure and the new position, parishioner Vivian Campagna will act as interim youth director during the 2018-19 program year.
To afford this bold move, our annual giving will have to increase to meet the need. As you consider your 2019 pledge to Redeemer, pray about how you can help build the next generation and strengthen the church that will shape our grandchildren. And next weekend, October 27 and 28, please welcome with me our new stewardship chairs: Carrie Goldrick, Noel and Tom Morelli. Their vision is to support a relevant, faithful, courageous, church that is building God’s beloved community in Baltimore now.