An Open Invitation
I was invited to preach on Sunday, January 25th, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead. I chose to frame my sermon around Thich Naht Hahn's concept of bodhisattvas and multigenerational (spiritual) leadership. Hahn describes bodhisattvas as great beings filled with love and compassion, who are committed to protecting humanity. They are all around us and can not be distinguished based on their looks, their gender, their race, or any other outward aspect of identity. It is about what is in their hearts and minds, as well as how they live their lives.
I love this concept because I think it describes the people who show up in our congregations. This concept describes our youth. It describes our children, our elders, and our young adults.
Monday morning, I arrived at work to find an article from The Alban Institute waiting in my inbox. Michael O'Loughlin* describes his own path within the Catholic church. I found his story echoes my own story through Unitarian Universalism. There was an invitation to participate in the spiritual life of the church, teaching religious education classes (although, as the kid of a Director of Religious Education, I didn't really have a choice), developing ownership in the church building, and sitting on the leadership council. To me, it seems as if Michael is my Trinitarian doppelganger!
O'Loughlin says: "There’s no way to know what other path my life might have taken had my pastor not invited me to serve in all those positions. But looking back, it’s hard to see what would have stopped me from just drifting away, like my many high school friends who now have nothing to do with the church."
We talk a lot about losing our youth and young adults, because it is a fact. We lose some of our youth and young adults. When we talk about retaining them, we talk about faith formation and leadership development as ways that work.
As I read more Christian scholarship about youth ministry and hear the stories of those that maintain their connection to Unitarian Universalism, I am feeling that the conversation needs to broaden. We need to talk about invitations and ownership and identity, as well as faith formation and leadership development. Faith formation and leadership development are not separate from these ideas - I think they actually begin to engender them within.
I would love to hear your stories; who first invited you to participate as your full self? What was that like?
* Michael O'Loughlin is the national reporter for Crux, and a graduate of Saint Anselm College and Yale Divinity School.