I have been working on a response to a conference that I attended a month ago. You will see below how strongly I feel about my experience. It is harsh, but meant to be constructive. Peace to us all.
PS: This is my 101st post! Woo-hoo!
I have never felt so marginalized in my life.
Yesterday, I attended a conference on “20somethings and the Church”. Reading over the information, I assumed it would be panels with wise wisdom on how to handle certain things in this stage of life, such as “student loans, job searches, finding friends and housing, the parish and social scene—a look at the economic, career, social, and religious challenges twenty-somethings face” as the schedule said. Instead, there was a strange anthropological, political, and social study of us ‘somethings’. No wise wisdom from generations before us, no conversation with those of us in our twenties. I expected to walk away with a better understanding of where we uniquely fit in the church. Yesterday’s message of where we fit – be seen, and not heard. Be invited, but not engaged.
The day started off fine. Walking along Columbus Ave, I saw a familiar face! My friend Elyse, who 8 years ago in college I ran a small faith sharing group. After catching up, I spoke with four other people I know from various stages of my life: college, current young adult group, a Sister whom I always run into at such events! I felt connected, reflecting that the last 2.5 years of my life, I’ve done some great things and found people, which was a nice reminder after feeling so disconnected in the past week.
The day wore on, and honestly, I’m shocked that I didn’t leave. Something was holding me there, maybe the potential of talking to these friends I hadn’t seen in years, maybe the great lunch I had with my Sister friend, maybe that some things did positively resonate with me, or the hope that the day would be redeemed.
When a question was asked from the audience “are 20somethings, really seeking anything” I realized that 1. I feel incredibly patronized and 2. this conference may not about me, it’s about the elusive, non-church going, group of my peers.
Yet, we, those of us who were present, were given a large task. Later in the day, one panelist ended her time by passionately calling to those ‘20somethings’, which was about 1/3rd of the audience demographics. “It is this generation who has the job to change the church. It is their calling, others have failed, and you don’t have to”. An elderly woman in front of me nodded and her friends agreed. I wanted to scream “NO! That is way too much responsibly! I, we, cannot be expected to pick up the pieces from future generations.” But, again, I wasn’t asked. I was just charged with a task I truly don’t believe is mine.
Another disappointment was that it was nearly 3pm, before the name “Jesus” was uttered, whom you could argue offers a great parallel. He found his calling at age 30, the ultimate Young Adult to learn from!
My ultimate frustration was feeling like I was talked about, broadly, by people who think they understand me because they have some experience with my peers, or with other generations of 20 somethings. Somethings. What a demeaning term itself. Am I really an undetermined or unspecified thing? Am I only defined by my age? Can we use more inclusive language- like a generational term, or young adults, can we recognize our humanness?
My suggestions as to how these frustrations can be heard:
- Define who it is you really want to attend and what the goal is. Is it just a griping session for young adults, or just a learning session for other generations? Is a coming together to share wisdom, equally from older and younger generations? Who is supposed to be listening vs. speaking?
- Change the format. The day was incredibly flat, every session the same style. Honestly, I was never so happy to see a powerpoint presentation. Bring in local, young musicians; have scripture readings; have time to break into small groups and reflect! There are so many models.
- Do not refer to us as TwentySomethings. Young Adults, Generation Y, etc. is better.
- Have much more Young Adult involvement. Why invite us, if you won’t talk to us? There were wonderful, young, caring people in the room, but we weren’t engaged at all. In addition, every session mentioned the need to dialogue with us, but it never happened. Utilize the conference to do just that.
One last piece cannot go unmentioned. At the Q&A session, an African American woman took the microphone, loudly and boldly scolded the panel in general for not having enough representation from her community at this event. She stated how she was a lifelong member of the Church here in this City, and how terrible it was that we still separate.
Then the worst thing that could have happened did. She was ignored.
The next question was taken, and people nervously sat in their seats. I noticed how uncomfortable and even scared I felt. But something was gravely wrong. I couldn’t let this be. If nothing else, this woman needed to know she was heard. We needed to recognize HER dignity and HER voice, even if we had no solutions. Even though this would be incredibly hard for me, I was resolved to do it.
After 10 minutes, a woman went and spoke to her. After a conversation, this woman stood up and took the mic and said “I’m sorry, but I need us to recognize the woman who spoke a few minutes ago. I don’t know how to solve the problem, but we need to say we heard you and we thank you for saying what you did”. AMEN.
We can’t be this church. We can’t be this Church that blatantly says one thing, and does another. We can’t be this Church that wants to help the 20somethings, but doesn’t listen to them. We can’t be the Church that talks to everyone but those who are in the situation. We can’t say the doors are open wide to all, but our ears are not.
I know this is strong. However, I have never felt so ignored or put down by a group who was apparently so ‘interested’ in me. I hope these words will be taken as constructive; to know what need truly is out there. I hope the Church that I love, and am so deeply a part of, hears this cry and continues to count themselves lucky for having us ‘20somethings’ in their community, no matter how elusive we may seem to you. I will not take on the whole crusade to change the Church in every way others think it needs, but I will demand that we be heard. If we are continued to be talked about but not talked with, we will remain “Lost” to you and to this Church.