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Photo: Rachel Held Evans. Photo by Vada Snider.
New York Times best-selling Episcopalian author and blogger Rachel Held Evans opened the Mennonite Church USA Convention Featured Seminar series with a talk entitled “Keep the Church Weird” on Wednesday afternoon.
Held Evans’ books focuses on faith and the decline of Millennial church attendance in North America. In the seminar, Held Evans emphasized the importance of making simplifying changes in order for the church to grow. She claims that Millennials are not looking for new stylized changes in the church, but are looking for a sense of realness and openness in their faith communities.
“Making the church relevant and hip is not what [growing the church] is about,” Held Evans said. “It’s about keeping the church weird.”
Held Evans said things like baptism and communion make the church different and weird.
“Getting Millennials to come to church is not about style updates,” she said. Rather, it’s about opening up the church as a place where discussion and openness can happen.
Millennials want a place where it’s okay to have doubts and varying beliefs, she said.
“We [Millennials] want the church to be a place where we can be real with people,” explained Held Evans. “We are not walking away from the church because of the cost of discipleship, we are walking away because of racism and other prejudices.”
A lot of the problems and roadblocks within the church are because of mountains that have been put there ourselves. “I don’t know how to get Millennials back to the church, but I do know that a lot of the time, the problems are mountains of our own making, and we need to get out of the way,” said Held Evans.
“We are scared that if we get out of the way, things might get a little out of control and change too quickly or that thing called grace might get out of control.”
However, we have to accept that “grace has been out of control for the past 2,000 years,” since the death of Jesus, Held Evans said.
A large part of Held Evans’ talk focused on letting go of old traditions and encouraging the church to not be afraid of death. Held Evans was hopeful for the power of the Holy Spirit within the churches in North America, but did not think that change within the church would be possible without some death of the church and its traditions.
“Maybe death is something that the church in America needs a little bit of right now,” Held Evans offered. “Christianity has died and risen many times because we have a God who knows his way out of the grave.”
God will continue to keep working where God is needed. The Holy Spirit will continue to work with the marginalized, she said.
“God is on the move, so we need to create valleys so that God can move.”
Held Evans suggested that a lot of the reason why there is so much pushback to bringing new traditions into the church is because of “white folks worrying that we’re losing a little bit of the control of power […] but if Christianity must die in America, let the it die to the old ways of power.”
Held Evans closed by calling the church to focus on being hospitable and accommodating within congregations and thinking about ways congregations can be open to the ideas and thoughts of younger generations. Held Evans encouraged churches to strip Christianity down to its roots. She said it would be worthwhile to do so as the church looks to the future, even though it may be unbelievable, tricky or weird to others.
Held Evans will speak at the morning adult worship Thursday morning on the topic “God’s Beloved Church.”
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