An Invitation to None

“Nones” were the subject this past weekend of a New York Times op-ed piece (Dec 10, 2011) by Eric Weiner, entitled “Americans: Undecided About God?” “Nones” refers to people with no religious affiliation. In this article Weiner has a challenge for church folk to seek a “new way of being religious…this new way would be straightforward and unencumbered and absolutely intuitive. Most important, it would be highly interactive. I imagine a religious space that celebrates doubt, encourages experimentation and allows one to utter the word God without embarrassment. A religious operating system for the Nones among us. And for all of us.”

Steve Knight, a friend and Community Architect for TransFORM, a missional community formation network, wrote a great response to Weiner suggesting that those very things are already happening. Following some earnest online conversation, I was inspired to ask friends who self-identify as “Nones” or “SBNR (spiritual but not religious),” to please help me. I asked, “What kind of space, invitation, event, etc could I help create that would be interesting enough for you to engage/participate with folks from a faith community?” I heard some great suggestions for all kinds of community building, spirit nurturing, justice seeking ideas. What I didn’t hear was anyone offering to help make those things happen.

So, here is my challenge to all my neighbors who are SBNR or Nones wishing for community —
I can’t create what you need without you! Our whole congregation is incapable to building what you long for without your gifts and vision!

Now, it is true that not every person will fit every faith community. Some gatherings will have more porous boundaries than others. Some will have more core beliefs than others. If you can accept that other folks have core beliefs, regardless of whether you agree, then you and they might be a good fit.

For instance, the community I serve holds a core belief that the Holy One, Creator of all, is incarnate in the person of Jesus. You do not need to agree with this idea in order to participate here. Nearly every time we gather for worship, we say, “This is G-d’s house and all G-d’s people are welcome.” If it is ok with you that we hold these core beliefs, we might be a good fit. If not, we can still be good neighbors and friends. However, if you seek spiritual companions and think we might be the place — you are going to have to give us more than half a chance. Visiting once is not enough to know what we are about. We have off days, too!

If you earnestly seek a community where you are willing to be as vulnerable as you want us to be, if you want a space where we try to make it safe to ask any question and see it as part of a journey of faith, then help us build the trust necessary to make that happen! You are invited! You are encouraged!

Come teach us the songs that make your heart sing! Come take your turn praying prayers with words others might never have thought to use and listen to the sincere prayers of others whose words you might not prefer. Come offer to lead the movie night, the drum circle, the meditation group, or the service project. Come help cook for the community dinner, cleaning up after some kids, dare to love us and we will try to love you right back!

But we cannot be you who want us to be without you!
We cannot say, “We have no need of you.”

So, I invite, encourage, ask or dare you – show up, give it a try, help us change and grow, together.

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  • Tracy Fitzgerald

    Good piece, and I look forward to more from you. Liked the video too (though I think “hypocrites” in the church is a problem, not a “selling” point). I think the invitation you offer is important. The Church really needs to cease being about persuading people to believe certain things and more about joining people in living their lives with them, as partners on the Way. If we will authentically join them in their “unbelief,” without judgement, they will return the favor and Grace will abound. Of course even so, we do believe “impossible” things (at least I do!)! I think you write very well about, around, and through this dilemma. If I lived in Wisconsin, I would join you!

    But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 (NRSV)

  • deborah arca

    Susan – Thank you for such a generous post! This paragraph makes MY heart sing – “Come teach us the songs that make your heart sing! Come take your turn praying prayers with words others might never have thought to use and listen to the sincere prayers of others whose words you might not prefer. Come offer to lead the movie night, the drum circle, the meditation group, or the service project. Come help cook for the community dinner, cleaning up after some kids, dare to love us and we will try to love you right back!” What if every church posted THAT message on their outdoor church signs? What sweet & true community that might foster….

  • hanna brooks

    Susan, did members of your church film the video? just curious. I like this post. I think that how a group or a person defines community plays a big role in how that community functions. Which is obvious, of course. I guess what I`m getting at is, if you define a community by a set of beliefs it is going to be very different from a community defined by, I don`t know, shared space? I think what Void Collective was all about was making a space where people who don`t normally attend church would want to come and be engaged. I was a fairly regular church attendee throughout college, but I think I am beginning to fall into that None category and it is surprisingly ok with me. I still want to be a part of a community, and I definitely respect others` convictions and traditions, but I am beginning to understand how and why people my age just stop going to church. I had thought about this in the past, and it didn`t make sense to me then. Personally, I think my search for hope within the church or within a belief or a relationship if that`s how you want to put it finally reached an end point. It feels as though what I am finding hope in or even where I am searching for hope now has shifted. I guess I`m not sure where that leaves the church and me. Do I continue to go to something I no longer find meaningful, where a belief I grew up with but no longer accept is celebrated? My faith has been all over the place and has definitely been a gradual process of change, yet my lack of faith (or loss of faith) seems almost sudden. I was so involved with the church, and I`m not even sure what made me snap, so to speak, and just no longer want to be in it. I think it`s great that I don`t have to share the same core beliefs to participate, yet I am attending a worship service for something I don`t believe in? It doesn`t make sense you know? I don`t even know where to begin for an answer to your question about space and participation, but I want to be able to have an answer and I greatly appreciate the question.

  • Thanks, Tracy and Deborah! I appreciate your responses.

    Hannah, want to come for dinner sometime and hang out?
    I agree that every community, group, etc has its own edges, definitions, identity and that not everyone fits in. There are lots of places I don’t fit. That’s cool.
    However, this is written to those who want community, but want it to be something different than it is. Some groups can’t/won’t change. Others are willing, but need neighbors to show up.
    Of course, I agree, that sitting through worship where the dissonance with what you value is not meaningful is pointless. Unless, something in that dissonance catches your attention and intrigues you. We have folks who do not join us for worship, but show up for other activities, events, projects. Maybe in metro areas of large cities, people can find affinity groups that work to make a difference. Maybe that is true in smaller towns, too. But in my life, nothing outside of faith communities speaks to the breadth of making life better for everyone in ways that are sustainable with creation. Nothing else has been as holistic in my experience.
    I’m delighted that you are working on the Martin Luther King project with us, Hanna. It is a good example of something that we’ve started, but includes some many others, including “nones.” We really need a more affirming word that “none,” wouldn’t you say?
    Oh, and “no,” we didn’t make the video. Our technology folk are still working on increasing production values.