I am not afraid. Well, not yet.
But it can be a little scary for those of us under about 45 years old in the ministry. I am 31.
The basic trends look something like this (in case you haven't heard the frequent conversation of ministers these days)... the millennials have decreased ability and interest in supporting institutional religion, wealth in the United States has become increasingly allocated to a small percentage of the country, and the boomers are aging. All of this is coupled with the fact that most Unitarian Universalist communities are nearly racially and culturally homogenous (yes there are exceptions). And the demographics of the United States are increasingly diverse and most specifically multicultural. Add to this that the nones or those with no religious affiliation are the fastest growing religious group in the United States. Good news? Maybe. While they compose 20% of the U.S. population, only 10% of those report that they are looking for a religious community. And as radical as we may be, the vast majority of our communities look, smell and feel pretty religious. Because, uh...well we are.
So, it would appear religious community especially as we knew it in the 20th century does not have a bright future into the latter part of the 21st century.
I have the strange position of being both an older millennial (those born from 1981-1989) and a minister. It makes for awkward conversations with peers at parties, but that's another blog post entirely. "Oh wow. Well, that's cool." they say when I share that I am a minister, but I hear "Why would you ever do that?" I understand the fatigue with institutionalism present among the millennials. I get being baffled at the invitation to serve on a committee when I want to help change the world. I get being disillusioned at hearing sermons about spiritual practice when I am aching to experience the sacred. I get feeling objectified by the needs of the institution before a real relationship. Here join! Pledge! Volunteer! We need young people! Not that we want to get to know them, build relationship, or support them during the economic crisis our generation faces today...
And I understand the need of the institution to maintain the institution. I understand the value of institutions - history, care of families, intentional community, potential for prophetic voice, a place for the people to fulfill God's call, etc. I could really go on. I love these brick and mortar buildings. My heart aches at their histories, triumphs, and failures. I am inspired by the dreams of my ancestors who built the religious spaces.
I am strangely an institutionalist and a millennial. Frustrated and faithful.
And as a minister looking out across the landscape attempting to see the horizon for some very personal reasons-namely my ability to feed my family- I wonder what would happen if these institutions disappeared? I may not have to wonder long. Will I be able to retire as the minister of a congregation? Rev. Tom Schade has written a great piece on part of this phenomenon that I encourage you to read. It's found here Part of Tom's question is really helpful to me. I do wonder if my needs for employment by an institution get in the way of liberal religion most effectively serving the world's needs. I ask this often. I think it's a healthy discernment to engage in the 21st century. It's led me to pursue multi-site ministry, missional ministry and to support liberal religion beyond institutional bodies.
And yet, I can help but wonder, what will happen someday if we no longer have ministers of communities? I envision part of my role is to speak truth to power. I attend government meetings, protests, and community gatherings to give voice to those without a voice or those who cannot easily be represented. Most of my generation is working two or more jobs to survive. When they don't show up to the places where decisions are made, I would argue, it is often not because of apathy but because of economy. And so I see community organizers not being able to pay rent and ministers not being able to pay for childcare, I worry as these economic trends deepen who will lead our revolutions? What will happen when no one is paying the prophet?
When you look out across revolutions many of them were led by individuals who came from the middle class and had patrons (including institutions). If we are going to enter into a post-institutional world devoid of congregations and ministers, who will lead the change and create the spaces for consciousness raising?
I remain yours,
Frustrated and faithful