Commentary by Patrick Scriven
I had the opportunity this week to spend some time at Lazy F, one of our four United Methodist Camps in the PNW Conference. It was fantastic to see young adults, some I knew as children, now serving in key leadership roles (and doing a stellar job). Even though my stay was far too short, it was a powerful reminder of the important, ongoing and shared, discipling work that happens across our connection despite all of our political wrangling.
When I go to camp, I always look forward to the opportunity to talk with, and listen to, a few of the youth. One of my go-to questions has been “what church are you from?” While it’s never been surprising to discover that a youth who came with a friend, or on the encouragement of a grandparent, didn’t have a church home, it was unusual when the first three youth I spoke with answered that they didn’t attend church at all. Clearly, I may need a new question.
On the way to camp I listened to an interview with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old political phenom who beat 10-term Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s Democratic primary, despite being outspent 10 to 1. Posed a question about how her progressive positions might turn off some potential swing voters, she responded, “Our swing voter is not red-to-blue. Our swing voter is … the non-voter to the voter.” And it indeed appears that new voters, animated by her passion and strong messaging, were a key factor in her primary win.
This shift in focus from changing the minds of existing voters toward engaging new voters struck me as I was reconsidering this question I ask of campers. What opportunities do we miss when we assume a church home by default? Would we use the same curriculum? Is there something proactive we could do to connect these youth with a church near their homes? I suspect/hope this already happens intermittently.
Some local churches may also benefit from a similar shift in thinking. What would change if we designed what we do for people who are completely outside our church bubbles? Would we obsess as much over the differences between praise and traditional music stylings, or the color of the carpet? What things might we even learn about ourselves that we didn’t really even know as we consider the true merits of our sacred cows?
If you’ve never rafted the Yakima River with a pack of middle schoolers, you’ve missed out on quite the experience. The river and weather were beautiful, the youth were perfectly (within reason) collaborative and competitive in their play, and the only cell phone in sight was the one I was clutching desperately to take pictures on without dropping. I’m deeply grateful for the sacred space our camps create for these young people, even if it is the only week during the year where some of these young people may encounter what Methodism has to offer.
May we all be moved beyond our assumptions into the lives of others to share, and receive from each other, God’s life-giving love! When we make the space, we know that God is there.
P.S. Be sure to read Rev. Dr. Bill Gibson’s article this week which challenges the notion of building Christian community around affinity. I think you’ll also appreciate Rev. Paul Graves post on keeping our hearts open to each other despite profound differences.
Finally, be sure to read about our new Communications Associate Cindy Haverkamp. I’m excited to welcome her onboard as another storyteller and as a resource for the never more important area of Creation Care.
Patrick Scriven serves as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.