“Tina, why do you believe in God?”
As a youth and family minister, I talk about God. A lot. As a parent I talk about God with my own young children. As a devout and liberal Episcopalian, I’m always willing to talk about God and my take on Christianity in the 21st century. I’ve had opportunities to delve into my profound faith and explore and discuss it with a variety of children and adults. You might even say, and rightly so, that I get paid to explore and share my belief and love of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
Even so, when a 15-year-old tossed out this question on the last day of our J2A Pilgrimage my heart skipped a beat. Not for any doubt I felt I had to hide. I don’t doubt; that is a gift God gave me as a very young child. And if I did, I would have no compunction about sharing that with this young lady. Only through complete honesty about our own faith journeys can we earn our youth’s honesty and trust.
And maybe that was what scared me, for a moment. I’d recently witnessed this particular kid stop singing The Lord’s Prayer. She’d stopped going up for communion the last few weeks. I knew she was experiencing serious doubts about the existence of God and the relevance of the church and it’s liturgy. So her question, and the answer I needed to give her, carried a lot of weight.
We’d been together nearly 24/7 for a week at that point; which I think played a role in her ability to ask this question in a van full of peers, her adult youth leaders, and the rector. Boundaries were low among the eleven of us at that point. If for no other reason, I would highly recommend youth pilgrimage for this.
We’d traveled through and into some of the most hauntingly beautiful landscapes I’ve ever experienced, and spent time with beautiful people living very differently from us, in the Navajo Nation. We were all open and vulnerable.
So I explained the basis of my own faith. My co-leader and the rector gave her their answers. The other youth joined in the conversation. We discussed the great paradox that is faith in the modern age. How do we reconcile scripture and science? How can these kids keep God relevant in the realities of their everyday lives? Is it okay to come to church more for community and less for God? What do the words of confession really mean?
Some of our answers:
- God is community. Our interwoven relational lives with others are grace.
- Some of us have had experiences of being extremely open to God’s presence and have felt that presence as a result. Is that proof? No. That’s faith.
- Confession is about recognizing ways and times we’ve ‘missed the mark’ in our lives and relationships, and re-committing ourselves to keep striving to do and be better.
I don’t think any particular comment stood out as the ‘winning’ argument.
But the conversation itself was a win.
We approved of query and exploration; we allowed for doubt, and that made all the difference.
And the next time that particular youth was at church, she held hands and sang The Lord’s Prayer. She spoke the words of confession, and took communion; knowing that God and her church community love and welcome her without condition.
Thanks be to God.
Christina Clark serves as the Family Minister and Youth Leader at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Denver, CO. She has previously written for Adoptive Families Magazine and Mothering.com and is the author of the novel “Little Gods on Earth”.