5.08.2006

Another facet of the Lost Generation

They say the Lord works in mysterious ways. I’ve written before about the semi-ecstatic experience of watching my son sing in the local Presbyterian church children’s choir. I think the experience for me goes beyond the simple joy of seeing my son do something well.

I suspect there is a subconscious resonance for me. When I was a little girl, I too sang in a Presbyterian church children’s choir. I’m sure the service now is much the same and so are the hymns. I think there is something deeply comforting to me to worship God in this same way. It is something beyond rational assent to what is said. Perhaps this is a connection to my Scottish Presbyterian foremothers.

In the children’s sermon today, the pastor told a story about one of his youthful experiences of making cookies in home ec class. I was reminded that there are different recipes for cookies. Some of which we like better than others, but they are all equally valid as cookies. So too there are different recipes for church, some of which we might like better than others, but they are all valid recipes. But often, the cookies that were made by people we loved when we were very young continue to hold a special place in our hearts. Even if we decide we like something else better as adults, there can still be something deeply satisfying about your family’s special recipe. For making cookies or doing church.

Another aspect for me is recognizing the connection between my experience and Martin’s (and other people’s - Aj!) lamentation of “What has happened to the Lost Generation of Quakers?” In fact, I am part of the Lost Generation of Presbyterians. Frankly, I have found deeper, more meaningful connections to God in another faith tradition. They lost me when I was a teenager, and I’m not going back. As a true American, I think it is my right to choose to worship God in the way that suits me, regardless of my family’s traditions.

I wonder, if there had been a better youth pastor in my church, would I have stayed a Presbyterian? If I had gotten better Sunday School lessons? If my family hadn’t moved when I was in fifth grade so my mother started going to the Methodist church since there wasn’t a Presbyterian church in town? If church camp hadn’t conflicted with the County Fair and other secular pleasures? Would I have found Quakers anyway? Is the Presbyterian church suffering a decline in membership because so many young people like me went off and found some other, more compelling faith tradition? Notice that in my mind, I don't really distinguish between the Presbyterian church of my early childhood and the Methodist church of my later youth. I wonder how many adults convert to the Presbyterian church each year? How many adults become convinced by Quakerism? How many people are just lost? Lost to themselves, lost in too much work and material consumption and Sunday baseball games?

Is this a natural re-sorting process? Will my children choose to continue as Quakers or will they decide they’d rather return to the faith of their great-grandparents? What are the determining factors? What foundation will I give my children to choose a challenging and fulfilling faith tradition?

In any case, how mysterious that I have come to all this searching of my soul because my son agreed to sing in this choir with his friend from school when soccer season was over.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Joe G. said...

Now that I think about it - I'm part of the "lost generation" of Catholicism. :)

I appreciated the article from the Presbyterian Church: it reminds me that the reasons for people leaving a particular denomination or faith tradition are complex. It certainly brings some insight into some of the dynamics involved with Melanie's leaving (from the podcast).

OTH, there are probably things that communities might do to address it in some way. Thanks for an alternative POV on the issue.

5/08/2006 10:18 PM  
Blogger Timothy Travis said...

I am also a lost Presbyterian. It lost me during and because of the war in Vietnam. I once believed in that war but after three years in the Marine Corps neither the war nor the Presbyterian church of my youth spoke to me, anymore.

But God was looking for me, even when I thought I was walking away from God. And though I resisted for twenty years I became part of the current found generation of the Religious Society of Friends.

5/09/2006 7:52 AM  
Blogger QuakerK said...

The issue of conversion between churches has been studied by sociologists in recent years. One prominent study by three sociologists found that much of the membership decline among mainline denominations could be explained by people leaving the church entirely, somewhat less by people switching to Catholicism, the least by switching to "more conservative" Protestant denominations. Also involved was the falling rate at which people converted into mainline denominations from more conservative ones. Low birthrates among mainline Protestants also play a role. The article is Michael A. Hout, Andrew Greeley, and Melissa J. Wilde, "The Demographic Imperative in Religious Change in the United States," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 107 (Sept. 2001), pp. 468-500. There is a summary of varying views on reasons for changes in church membership at http://www.ctlibrary.com/bc/2004/mayjun/9.18.html#ft1 (from Christianity Today--sorry, don't know how to do a weblink in a comment, don't know my html well enough).

All that sounds very academic, which it is, but it is useful to have the big picture, something grounded in empirical studies. For example, some people have argued that conservative denominations have been growing precisely because they are conservative (i.e., theologically conservative and "morally demanding"). And following on that, some people have argued that if religious groups (including Quakers) are going to grow, they'll have to become more "conservative" or "orthodox" or something like that. But if people aren't leaving liberal denominations because they aren't traditional or conservative enough, then the solution to membership decline isn't to become more conservative, it's something else.

I don't want it to seem that I think this is all a matter of "head," something that should be approached intellectually. To a large extent, I think Quakers should take the shape we do because that is what God wants us to be, not because it will (or won't) attract new members. But if we are going to think practically, and undertake changes in order to attract new members, that's a practical matter, and we should think practically.

I hope I don't sound lecturing there. Mostly I just wanted to bring to everyone's attention some of the empirical evidence around the issue.

Peace,

David

5/09/2006 1:17 PM  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Here's a clickable link for the article David mentions.

To do a link in a blog, do <a href="the URL goes here">the link text goes here (like "clickable link") above</a>

With love,
Mark (a lost moderate Southern Baptist)

5/09/2006 3:48 PM  
Blogger QuakerJohn said...

Interestingly the article Robin refers to notes that the Presbyterian Church lost more members in 2004 (44 thousand) than there are unprogrammed U.S.Quakers in total! We aren't even in the game numbers-wise. Yes, we can claim sort of elite-club status but we're below the statistical radar in terms of critical mass.
So either you don't need those sorts of numbers to survive or we're on the Shaker path ... of course there are still six (last time I checked) practicing Shakers alive ....

5/09/2006 8:41 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Following Robin's and Joe's lead, I'll check in briefly here: you might say that I'm part of the "lost generation" of Judaism.

I left Judaism just after college. The Judaism that I was exposed to--which by no means represents all of Judaism--did not seem to build authentic connections between people, nor did it have a Center out of which came values, practices, and beliefs that resonated with my own... or if Judaism does have a Center--which I believe it does--I was not exposed to it in a way that carried meaning for me.

What I particularly have been enjoying is hearing from other Friends about what they wrestle with, or have wrestled with, regarding that particular crossroads in their Quaker journey.

For example, the podcast that Beppe conducted with Melanie Orndorff addresses her own departure from Quakerism (the link goes to the part of a transcript that speaks to this directly).

And Kody has posted some related thoughts on being seen as transient within a monthly meeting while a student at a nearby university.

Thanks, Robin, for opening up this conversation.

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up

5/09/2006 10:09 PM  
Blogger Joe G. said...

QuakerK,

Thanks for the article from the American Journal of Sociology. Because of my academic affiliation as a student I can access the article. I plan to scan/read it soon. The abstract makes it clear that the rise in membership in more conservative denominations and the decline in liberal is primarily due to birthrates! That is, as the authors put it, the more conservative denominations are "growing their own".

I'd like to see a study about retention of children (at adulthood) across groups, too. My anecdotal experience is that lots of people raised in conservative groups leave, too. But, perhaps because of the higher birthrates, there are literally more children to stay in their churches.

Of course, church attendance, a whole other issue, has declined since the 1950's here in the States (although there are have recent gains in attendance - on and off, as far as I know - in the past decade or so).

I'll stop the academia stuff now! :)

5/10/2006 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Robin. As a non-blogger, I don't know if it's appropriate for me to leave a comment that doesn't comment on the actual content of your post... but I've been wanting to let you know that I have looked at your blog from time to time since we met at Quaker Center and am really glad to see that you'll be at FGC Gathering! Carrie, Tim and I will be there too. I have also had some Q. religious ed questions floating around in my mind -- mebbe we can find each other somehow in July.

Kathleen from Philadelphia

5/10/2006 7:43 PM  
Blogger Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

And I'm part of the lost generation of Episcopalians :-).

It makes sense to me that the conservative churches relative strength would be coming more from having more kids than from converting all the liberals. But I do think that there's a certain sorting process going on, too. Episcopalians and Catholics, for example, seem to grab a lot of each other's dissatisfied members. I expect some of the same thing happens between denominations at the low church end of the spectrum.

5/11/2006 12:32 AM  
Blogger Paul L said...

In a sense I am part of a lost generation of (Missouri Synod) Lutherans who were abandoned (if not chased out) by the church during the 1970s. But like Tim Travis I feel more like a part of a generation found and called to Friends, less like a refugee than an immigrant.

But there is no doubt that much of the old country's DNA survives; for me, it includes the traditional Lutheran awareness of the power of self-deception, the dangers of self-justification, the reality of evil and the struggle Quakers call the Lambs War, and the love of congregational singing.

5/11/2006 11:57 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you all for joining this conversation. I think it is important that we understand that there is a kind of circular migration between churches. Like Paul, I don't feel like a refugee. I didn't have bad experiences in church to overcome, rather a deep desire for more church. And for me, the real worry is people who are so wounded that they leave church and/or their relationship to God completely. I don't feel the need to convert people who have some other religious identity. I am more concerned about people who feel despair that they have none, or who can't even identify what it is that they are missing. People who are trying to fill the God-shaped hole in their lives with food or alcohol or work or exercise or whatever.

That is where there are massive numbers of people like what QuakerJohn was talking about.

I do think it matters where we came from - it colors our understanding of what we see now, how we frame our religious experience with language and how we react to other's language and experience. I have read somewhere the analogy that we have to help people leave the religious refugee camp in order to become contented and engaged citizens in our new community.

P.S. Mark, thanks for adding the link instructions. I will try to add that to my post, available in my side bar, on How to Comment

P.P.S. Kathleen, you can comment any time on any topic on my blog! Glad to see you here, and I look forward to seeing you in July.

5/11/2006 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Aj said...

Part of me wonders is Quakerism has shut out a massive part of the population - the extroverts. Plus, there's a whole shebang going on about the feminization of the church - it seems to be more woman-oriented (social gathering, family-oriented, relationship-oriented), except of course in leadership. Which could be why leadership is wonky: guys are leading simply because they don't know what else to do even though it's not their gift.

I read part of a biography on Elizabeth Fry, and at the time, Quakers were very club-oriented: rules were to be followed exactly lest the denomination become "unpure." But when Quakerism began, it came from God working outside of the normal church-box - and yet we expect God to work inside our box and not others. Hmmm.

It's not a Quaker thing: it's an American-church thing. We can look at it as "bad" - it can seem like a failure of the church. Or we can look for where God's moving and get on board - it might look wacky, but hey: George Fox didn't seem like such a 'normal guy' in his day, I bet. :)

5/12/2006 7:57 PM  

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