As a millennial exvangelical, I belong to a generation that’s been deconstructing what we’ve been taught — a painstaking process that often leads to the rejection of religion altogether.
It’s one of the contributing factors to the recent (yet swift) decline in church attendance, especially in the U.S.
Although saving the Church as we know it isn’t a goal of mine (nor do I believe it’s even possible at this point), I do believe that more people my age would attend and benefit from progressive Christian churches, if they only knew such a thing existed.
Many church-hurt, deconstructing, doubting, spiritually hungry, social-justice-oriented, politically engaged, queer/allied, progressive millennials and Gen Zers don’t think there is a space where they and their convictions would be fully welcomed, embraced, and mirrored, but they would be mistaken.
Because they often don’t spend big bucks on marketing or proselytism like many popular churches do, such congregations are dying by the day. But they’re out there, and I’ve been lucky enough to attend several.
The church I currently go to is the first one I’ve regularly attended in more than five years. My initial visit also marked the first Christian service or event I hadn’t been triggered by in an even longer amount of time.
Considering my (and other exvangelicals’) personal experience with church includes a nauseating amalgamation of sexual abuse, purity culture, unchecked authority, emotional manipulation, patriarchy, sexism, racism, homophobia, bad theology, and white nationalism (need I go on?), not being triggered was quite a feat — and quite a relief.
During a time in which I’ve craved meaningful connection to fellow humans as well as the Divine, I’ve found solace in this kind, compassionate, uncertain, engaged, and aging congregation, which belongs to the United Church of Christ (UCC). The UCC is just one among many progressive Christian denominations across the globe, in addition to other nonsectarian groups and communities.
To give readers an idea of what these churches and communities can be like, I thought I would share details from an ordinary Sunday in the sea of white hair that I’ve come to love.
To start off, I received a pamphlet that had the following statement typed out at the top:
Welcome! We are an Open & Affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ, including all without regard to their race, gender, physical or mental ability, economic status, sexual orientation, or gender identity, a Peace with Justice church, stressing it’s importance in our common life, and an Immigrant-Welcoming Congregation, which offers a respectful, compassionate welcome and inclusion of immigrants in our midst.
Keeping that mission in mind, here are some additional details that might surprise you:
- From the sign out front to the ministers’ stoles, pride flags abound.
- Before the service, members were invited to attend a forum on Native American Heritage Month led by two local indigenous leaders.
- One minister, a former Buddhist, is a soft-spoken white man, and the other is an unabashedly honest and tattooed Latina woman.
- The nametags all had pronoun stickers (of course, they/them was an option).
- Speaking of pronouns, the ministers didn’t use any for God (i.e., they don’t say “he/him”).
- They also substituted the word “kin-dom” for “kingdom.”
- The service began with a “time of centering silence” in which congregants were invited to close their eyes, take deep breaths, and feel the weight of their bodies on the earth.
- The sermon included a Gandhi quote, an excerpt from a New York Times article, and condemnation of both the border wall and the Gaza-Israel war.
- The entire offering went to providing shoes to Native/Indigenous children in the Great Plains region.
- The bulletin advertised a “new womxn’s circle” open to those in the community “who identify as women,” a Climate Action Team meeting, and a conference on Celtic Christianity.
- We substituted “Creator” for “Father” when singing the Doxology.
- The choir sang a hymn in Zulu.
- During “The Prayers of the People,” a member gave thanks for the birth of a couple’s baby girl — a refugee family from Palestine whom the church helped get health insurance for when they moved to our town.
- The pastoral prayer lifted up trans folks in honor of Trans Remembrance Day.
If this sounds like your kind of church, let Google help you find a progressive church near you. My litmus test while searching online is whether there are women in leadership (with the same titles as the men) and whether their stance on LGBTQ+ inclusion is clear (Church Clarity is a helpful tool). Although many churches tout the phrase “everyone is welcome,” few actually mean it.