If you’re a millennial or a 30-something interested in social justice and dissatisfied with your tradition, your suburban congregation, or your mega-church, and feeling a bit None-ish, then I have the church for you.
What’s on your list of descriptors for the perfect congregation, you social justice-y-leaning, about-to-give-up-on-church looker?
Local community oriented?
Guess, what? I walk to church. And we are hyper-community oriented; we are an intentional community. I think you might like that we’re a little bit radical. We actually live on the same property together!
We provide a space where people allow themselves and others to be vulnerable. There are no fakers here. Just real folks sharing their lives and showing you who they really are.
We are an intergenerational group from ages one to eighty.
Yep, most Sundays, we pray for peace in the world, for refugees, for both sides in war-torn regions. We even pray for our enemies!
My seven-year-old daughter reads scripture during worship. My one-year-old toddles through the middle of the circled gathering. It’s not unusual for one of the younger kids to shout out commentary of the scripture or a song. We aren’t fussy and we expect that children will clap their hands and make noise. Sometimes—gulp—we even choreograph a dance for them.
A different kind of leadership and worship style?
We are a lay-led congregation. There are no microphones or stages. Our circular gathering makes it less important who is leading; we don’t mind if you’re a man or a woman, if you’re single or married, young or old, just as long as you are willing to serve. Until recently we used an overhead projector from the nineties for song lyrics. The sheen of worship doesn’t overpower the realness of people. And even with all of this, we still follow the lectionary. We’re kind of a low church with a dash of high church.
Doesn’t it sound great? You’re more than welcome to come for a visit. But just a word of caution: Once you get here, you might want to leave.
I mean, yes, people are authentic. And they love Jesus with their whole heart. And they want to save the earth, end war, and care for each other. We are community oriented, but what’s also true is that we are in the rural Midwest on a farm, an hour from the closest airport. A bit in the middle of nowhere.
The sheen of worship doesn’t overpower the realness of people but, in actuality, there is no worship sheen at all. It’s just a bunch of non-professional, lay folks who aren’t paid to put together a worship service.
The marginalized feel welcome but sometimes, honestly, we can give off a weird vibe. We’re a bunch of idealists, we dress funny, and we’re a little left of center (or maybe a lot). To some, we sound radical and hip, but in actuality, almost anything hip (except for a few actual hippies) about us is accidental.
Am I losing you? Okay how about this: Are you tired of mega-churches? Well, you’re in for a treat: We are the opposite. On a typical Sunday, there are around 20 of us.
I mean, sure, if you join us, we’ll put you to work. And frankly, we are often exhausted because we all have to participate in the worship service and community life to make it run. There’s rarely a Sunday when my husband or I don’t have to go to church early, dragging our three children along with us, to lead music, preach, make bread for communion, lead Sunday school for the kids, set up the room, or prepare the meal afterwards.
And it’s not just our family; all of the participants feel drained. We are stretched thin. With non-professional and tired musicians (myself included) and congregants who sing with their whole heart—correct notes be damned—worship can sound a little out of tune.
I see that I’m giving you some mixed messages. But when you get here, if you can get past our surface oddities, you will love it. There will be fluttery feelings. You won’t be able to stop talking about it. Everything will seem new and right. You’ll want to stay forever.
But, if I’m honest, after a few frustrations, a few missed notes, and a bit of the Lord’s-day exhaustion, reality might set in. People are difficult and messy. And dealing with them will show you what a mess you are too. Don’t worry, it happened to me: I’m a wreck and I know it.
Drat. That’s not a good sell, is it? Now that I think of it, our church doesn’t sound that radical at all, unless you believe like Reverend Becca Stevens that the most radical things are the oldest. We aren’t cool. We aren’t hip. You might leave church still feeling spiritually hungry. And rest assured, if you stay for very long, you will see the ugly parts of yourself.
On the other hand, we want you here. And if you’re willing to work, to deal with missed notes, with the irritation of worship books that are falling apart, with preparing a whole service when only ten people show up, with your own inner failings making themselves known, then you will find nourishment in the ways you give instead of what you expected to receive.
In the end, that’s about all I can promise from your ideal church.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Christiana N. Peterson
Christiana N. Peterson grew up in Texas and received a PhD in Creative Writing from St. Andrews University in Scotland. She has published pieces on death, fairytales and farm life at Art House America, her.meneutics, and cordella. She lives with her family in the rural Midwest where she is learning the joys and challenges of church and farm life. You can find more of Christiana’s writing on her blog at christiananpeterson.com and follow her on twitter.