At some point in my high school years I decided I didn't want to be a member of our church or even attend, though my parents frankly didn't give me much choice about the matter.
The problem with church, as I diagnosed it with my inexperienced teen-age eyes, was that it was full of hypocrites. Which is to say people who acted all nice and religious on Sunday but who sometimes seemed to have different standards the rest of the week. It's pretty common for teens to have really sensitive hypocrisy radar.
At any rate, starting when I went off to college I was essentially unchurched for about 12 years, although during that time my interest in the eternal questions never went away. I read theology and even took some lay theology classes at Colgate Rochester Divinity School while I was working for the afternoon newspaper in Rochester, N.Y., in the late 1960s.
Eventually I found my way back to church once I realized that I was one of the hypocrites I used to judge and thought maybe I needed some help with that.
There are lots of reasons youth and young adults get turned off of -- and by -- religion.
As this USA Today piece by a young person notes, sometimes it has to do with a faith community's deep commitment to some tradition that means very little to young people and should mean much less than it does to older members.
"Whatever this 'tradition' comes dressed as," the author writes, "we find it a turnoff. Because of this, church should offer more open-ended resources to teens — such as meditation, discussion groups and even nature walks. In other words, the Christian church experience needs to start transcending the traditional and adapting to the times. Only then can teens start finding meaning in church beyond traditional mass, and realizing they can come to God in their own way without indoctrination or an intermediary."
Lots of faith communities -- but far from all -- realize this and are doing something about it. The youth ministry in my own congregation is doing really well right now thanks to excellent leadership. And two of my grandchildren -- siblings ages 17 and 14 -- are deeply connected to their own congregation and the opportunities it offers for them to learn and, in their case, to use their musical talents.
But keeping young people connected to a faith community -- or getting them reconnected -- means listening to them and learning from them. Which is what Youthfront, the highly successful youth ministry organization in the KC area, does so well.
Why is all this important? Because, as I've often heard from faith leaders, faith communities are always just one generation away from dying. And death would bring an end to all the good such communities can do.
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PROGRESS TOWARD ENDING HUNGER?
The brother of the late Illinois Senator Paul Simon, the Rev. Art Simon, founded the non-profit agency Bread for the World. He's now 89 and, in this interview with RNS, suggests we're closer now than we were 45 years ago when his agency was created, to ending world hunger. Worth a read. I've met Paul Simon but not Art, though he and I became e-mail friends when a mutual friend was in prison and we both worked to encourage his parole. That didn't happen, but in the process I learned what a terrific human being Art Simon is.