From: www.religionnews.com on May 31, 2019
I have a confession to make. The first twenty-two years of my life were spent in the buckle of the Bible Belt, otherwise known as, small town Oklahoma. This is the reddest state in the land where drilling for oil is big business, there’s a church on every corner, bigger is always better, and Styrofoam reigns supreme.
After a brief sojourn in Texas, I found myself newly ordained and practicing ministry in Seattle, Washington. To say it was cultural whiplash is an understatement. But more than a dozen years later and I know with certainty that I have found my people.
When family members from the south come to visit Seattle, what do you think we talk about more than anything? You got it. Recycling. We spend at least 42% of the time they are here explaining Seattle Public Utilities policies regarding garbage, recycling, and composting. It blows their minds. And that is before we go to the grocery store and they discover the lack of disposable plastic bags. It’s like the Pacific Northwest is another planet and they need an interpreter.
As I read Religion News’ article, The Pacific Northwest is the American religious future, I found myself nodding along in agreement. Yes, yes, yes! And, there’s more.
What we are experiencing in this region of the country is a foretaste of what’s coming to the rest of the country and regardless of how you feel about that, it’s an opportunity to learn from the experiences on the west coast and adapt.
What my early cultural whiplash taught me is that it’s far easier to start a public discourse on saving the salmon, seal sitting, or banning sugar at your local daycare than ever mentioning Jesus and that’s okay. It just means we have to be more creative.
The low religious identification, infrequent church attendance by church goers, and lack of societal expectations around church affiliation at all isn’t as bleak as it sounds. In twelve years of urban parish ministry in Seattle, I have seen churches growing and thriving. The people who walk through the doors are unlikely to have an allegiance to a particular denomination or creed and are rather seeking a profound experience of community and the divine. They are hurting and are seeking the Kingdom of God. They are angry at past church experiences filled with misogyny, homophobia, fear, and judgement, and are looking for a place to heal. They are looking for Jesus, but probably won’t say that out loud.
There is a great deal of hope for the church and the people of God in the post-Christian era. It just looks, feels, smells, and tastes different than we’re used to because that’s the way the world is changing. The church must be willing to meet people where they are. That is what West Coast culture is teaching us. When we can accept people on a spiritual path that is uniquely their own and graciously invite them to something deeper, what comes of it may surprise us.
It’s kind of like recycling. At first, the three separate bins are super confusing. Where does this go?! Is it recycling? Is it garbage? Or, is it compost? I have no idea. But the longer you do it, you begin to realize the practice changes you. The discipline of thinking about each item you discard actually causes you to think about it differently and soon you strive to put less in the garbage and more in the other two bins because it’s better for our earth.
The same thing happens when people begin to experience church in a new way. At first, it is confusing. What is this? What are we doing? Why are we doing this at all? But the longer you do it, you begin to realize the practice changes you. The discipline of worshipping together as a community causes you to think about it differently and soon you realize transformation is happening. And transformation of souls is better for our earth, and for each other, and for the Kingdom of God.
Sure, it’s a lot easier to talk about organic produce or saving the orca or electric cars than to mention Jesus in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe that is the way of the future. But I think Jesus would be pretty okay with a bunch of people on the west coast worried about sustainability and biodiversity and care for God’s creation.