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[ministry] Humanists and the "unchurched"

June 29th, 2008 (10:18 pm)
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current location: casa new jersey

More videos, to include today's service which, unlike Thursday's, was neither Caucasian nor dorky. I can't really lay my finger on what was different; so many elements were the same, but there was no self-consciousness here.

Macker asked me to expound on Reaching the Unchurched. The title for the workshop was "Reaching The Unchurched from Harvard's Secular Cathedral", which lecturer Rabbi Greg Epstein didn't choose. He expressed some perplexity about it, suggesting that it was the most concise way to describe what he was doing given the limited number or words allowed in a title. The blurb in the program goes like this:

One in five 18-to-25-year-olds is atheist, agnostic, or non-religious. Greg Epstein, Harvard's Humanist Chaplain, has made waves successfully targeting this audience. Now he wants to put chaplains for them on every college campus. Join him in asking: How can UUs' message of liberal religion best connect with these young adults?

I have to blatantly admit I have a blind spot, due to a prejudice. I'm a theist and I have a hard time sometimes with Humanists because I don't get the kind of spiritual nourishment I need in predominantly Humanist congregations, and I know they don't get all that they need in the sorts of congregations where I do. It's part of a tense dynamic that's gone on within the denomination for a long time, and nothing new just because it's hitting me now. But I see "unchurched" and, as Epstein mentioned, that seems to imply that these young people need a church. He found that amusing. Around my great big blind spot, the sparks in my brain were going, "This is about reaching out to these folks who've already, probably hastily, decided but may not know there's an exploring community where they can really take a look at all their beliefs and decide again if they want."

I was a theist looking at this thing like an evangelical opportunity. Epstein is no evangelical, of any stripe, and it cracks him up that people sometimes describe him as such. He's actually a Humanist rabbi, if you can imagine, and he really is the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard. His vision is that of providing education, support, and advocacy for these people, attracting them together, helping them create for themselves meaningful lives within their beliefs. I have to respect that.

I never did find out how you reach the unchurched, but this did reopen for me the question of how we get along, how we get what we need, all together. There's no easy answer to that, and there's no one answer, either.

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