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Building the church one relationship at a time

Generations of womenby Elizabeth McBride

Recently I attended a convention with the Women of the ELCA in the Southwestern Texas Synod. When I walked into the building, someone directed me to the registration area. Everything I needed to know—worship times, meal locations, where in-kind gifts were being collected—was available. No one said things like, “Are you new?” or did anything that made me feel like an outsider.  I simply showed up, and my participation was valued.

There was work to be done. Church women at this convention were making decisions about governance, how money would be spent and what they wanted to accomplish in the next years. There was a 20-year-old woman who was appointed to lead the hospitality committee. Women (and some men) came as they were—with belief in Jesus probably the only prerequisite. (There was also an Elvis impersonator—but I’m not sure where that fits in.)

We already have a savior

Many congregations and women’s groups are inclusive, spanning many generations. Yet sometimes when I hear people say, “We need /want younger women in our church/women’s group,” it seems to come from a place of fear, rather than a place of mutual relationship-building. Sometimes there is a belief that (perhaps out of fiscal necessity) individuals born in the '70s and '80s are going to somehow magically save the budget, help us meet membership goals and ensure that our church or women’s group is somehow more relevant. But relevant to whom? Nike? The folks in Silicon Valley?

Following Jesus already makes believers relevant. When we ignore our own identity as followers of Christ and think that we need to add a sound machine for worship or that young women must not like studying the Bible in our circles because they aren’t showing up at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday—that is a problem.

Jesus’ disciples had no splashy marketing campaigns (although the miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding might have seemed like it to some) or age-specific ministry. Jesus simply said: “Come follow me.”

Living in community

We live this out in many ways. We participate in our faith communities—some of which are women’s groups in our congregations. We strengthen our own faith and serve our neighbor through our involvement in a Bible study circle, a Café group and conventions. Our congregations help create opportunities for us to serve our communities as Christ did. We share the gospel in our women’s groups by creating in-kind gifts to donate to local nonprofit organizations, or lifting up the work of a local organization that supports survivors of human trafficking.

In these groups, we elect leaders who help us with the important work of fiscal responsibility and governance, to ensure that we make our church, our community and world a better place. There is a lot of work to do, and we need other people to help us carry out this mission.

However, when we focus on how someone looks— young or old—we miss out on building authentic relationships. When we spend too much time trying to “invite them” into our group, we’ve already positioned ourselves as the insiders and them as the “other.” On the other hand, when we focus on meeting women of any age where they are—where their unique gifts can be added to the collective—we evolve as a faith community based on mutual belief and respect.

After all, Jesus already did the heavy lifting for us. All we have to do to be relevant for younger generations is to be in authentic relationship with one another.

Elizabeth McBride is the director for intergenerational programs and editor of Café.

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