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Sacred Journeys: Past, Present & Future

Ilia Delio, in her book, The Hours of the Universe" says: God is doing new things through us; we are the new creation in process.

This is what we felt at the beginning of Sacred Journeys. The leading of the Spirit to do something new. Twelve years ago, a group of us found ourselves confronted with an institutional church that was and is, as Delio says, “divided and defending itself against the cultural winds of change.” Religion has become marginalized by our current culture, seen as the naïve, backward thinking, old school, rigid, non-thinking, non-scientific, simpletons stuck in an ancient mindset with an ancient God.

Increasing numbers of people are discovering that the old religious answers don’t work any more and are turning away from religion altogether. When we began Sacred Journeys twelve years ago 75% of people in the US claimed to be Christian. In 2021, that was down to 63%. While at the same time during those 10 years, the number of people claiming no religion at all grew from 16% to 29%. If those trends continue, in another 10 years less than 50% of people in the US will claim a Christian identity, and over 42% will claim no religion at all. One other interesting statistic from the Pew Research Center is that as of 2021 only 25% of Christians said they attended services weekly.

Having said all of this, the flip side, which I keep reading over and over again, is that the desire for something to fill the existential emptiness most humans experience is still strong. While the younger generation doesn’t find church to be a good fit anymore, they still ask the big questions: what is the purpose of life, what happens when we die, what does it mean to love and be loved, how do I live true to myself, is there Something More than me?

People everywhere are turning away from church and turning to walks in nature, to yoga and meditation, and other more solitary or individual endeavors to help fill the void. Or people are turning to food, shopping, over-working, excessive video gaming, alcohol, marijuana, and other ways to try and fill the void (all of which are fine in moderation but – in moderation or excess - aren’t a means to wholeness).

To paraphrase Delio again, we have become a world turned inward, a world blind to mystery, wonder and awe. Nothing really binds us together the way neighborhoods, family structures and churches used to.

Sure, people seem to be flocking to mega churches. And the evangelical Christian segment seems to be growing stronger every day. But what is there for the rest of the folks? Who will offer a place of belonging, support, purpose, and hope?

All of this led us to ask the question in our recent visioning: How do you feel about being Christian and is being Christian important to you?

Thirty-five people participated in the visioning sessions, and we run the spectrum about how we feel about being Christian. We had two or three who felt very strongly about being Christian and two or three who felt very strongly about not wanting to be labeled Christian and would be perfectly happy if we dropped the designation altogether. The rest of the group were mostly conflicted and/or wanted to qualify what it meant for them to be Christian: that they were progressive Christians not fundamentalist or evangelical, they saw Jesus as their role model and teacher, and Christianity gave them focus and direction.

I was having a conversation with my son and daughter-in-law, about some of this around the campfire this summer and Jordan summed up many people's feelings right now when he adamantly stated, “We’ll take your Christ, but we don’t want your Christianity.”

One person in our visioning sessions commented very succinctly that Sacred Journeys provides an alternative to the either/or option of being Christian or not Christian, by offering a narrow niche for those who want to remain Christian but need something different.

There has been no real model or map to being that narrow niche. But these last twelve years Sacred Journeys has tried to offer a place to belong without having to believe certain things or even behave in certain ways. And, we have tried to emphasize being a progressive church. When asked what it meant to be a progressive Christian church in our visioning we had answers like: inclusive, taking the bible seriously but not literally, no dogma or doctrine, freedom to think and question, focus on social-justice, open-minded, learning, growing, fluid.

In Galatians 6:15, Paul writes, "It matters nothing whether one bothers with the externals of religion or not. All that matters is that one is created anew."

In this letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul was very clear that the trappings of religion – circumcision and food laws among others – did not matter. What mattered was that one was evolving into a new level of consciousness, a new level of being, like Jesus achieved. In this new level of consciousness, the most important thing is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. It matters that we’re growing, learning, and evolving in our understanding of God and ourselves. It matters that we grow deeper in love with ourselves, with others and with the Divine. It matters that the newness we experience is expansive, not contractive. It matters that we experience - in deeper and deeper ways - our Oneness with the earth and all her creatures.

When we asked in visioning what holds us together as a spiritual community, the answers had nothing to do with what we believe, and everything to do with these ways of being created anew.  People said the glue that holds us together was the warmth, acceptance, and genuine caring they experienced. Sacred Journeys, they said, is a place they feel safe, where there is no judgment, a place that is small enough to be relaxed and fun, more personal like in joys and concerns, and a place to create relationships through our shared experiences.

Going forward… when asked what people need/want from Sacred Journeys the answers were much the same. Folks wanted a place to feel grounded and anchored, to find reinforcement in a belief in Something More, a place to be validated for new ideas and for questioning, a place to belong, to find support if needed, and to develop deeper connections with others. Folks also wanted a place that is inspiring and challenging with a relevant message to take home.

Here's what I hear most… people want and need a radically different place to belong. A place where they can be authentically themselves with all their faults and failings, with all their questions and doubts, with all their successes and celebrations. We want a place to BE who we were created to be and be accepted – not tolerated! And we want a place where it is ok to talk about our spiritual experiences, our spiritual questions, our spiritual thoughts and be listened to. A place to be curious about what others think and believe, and to have conversations that might help us learn and grow to be better human beings, to fill the emptiness inside, to love ourselves more, to love others more, to remember the importance of the environment, to HOPE.

Our challenge, in the face of a society that is becoming increasingly more suspect of religion, is to figure out how to continue to be a place of radical belonging. And to do it well. So be it.

Love & Light!