The Summer of Me Concluded

Ah, Parliament. Doing for me today what caffeine couldn’t. Go on, tear the roof off the sucker.

Well, my Summer of Me finally ended yesterday. While the season is still lingering in meteorological fact (warm enough at night to sleep with the windows wide open to the breeze, on top of the covers), I’ve seen the end coming for a week or so. The leaves have started falling in the yard, and it’s been cool enough in the mornings that I’ve needed a coat while feeding the horses.

But those are just the technical points: the summer actually ended when the Journey to Adulthood program at my church started again for the school year. This will be my second year of volunteering as a leader for the program, and this year will be immensely busy. As a matter of fact, the thought of what lies ahead for this group in part prompted the creation of the Summer of Me as a way to recharge my batteries. (For the record, it worked. I’m ready to re-shoulder my responsibilities. Bring it on!)

The Journey to Adulthood (J2A) program is an idea intended to better incorporate the lives of teenagers into the church. Growing up, I was always annoyed by the church’s attitude toward young people — either we were paraded in front of the congregation like talented trophies, or we were expected to behave like adults. To be fair, certain individuals tried to change that, but the J2A program is the first concerted effort I’ve seen in that direction. Growing up is, um, complicated. The J2A program seeks to acknowledge that, and if not provide answers per se to problems that teenagers face, at least provide a forum in a spiritual environment for the questions to be raised.

Helping with this program is one of the hardest and most worthwhile things I’ve ever done. I have no idea how to teach, and after a year of this I’d like to publicly state my utmost admiration for those who do. There’s no worse nightmare (for me) than raising a question and meeting a room of blank stares.

I think, though, after a year with this group of kids, that it’ll be easier to start conversations. We’re much more comfortable as a group and the leaders have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t — and how much preparation to put into each lesson. Basically, I’m much more humble than I was a year ago. I freely admit that I’m more ignorant than the teenagers in most of these lessons. Although I’m familiar with Bible stories and current events, I’m in as much need of guidance on my spiritual journey as they are. After any given morning’s session, I feel like I learned more than the kids did, and they’re doing all the teaching. They’re so smart and bright that it’s a pleasure to just sit back and listen to them talk.

I have no idea what will happen to traditional organized religion in our lifetime. Are we training these kids to follow in our parents’ footsteps (I can’t say ours, since so few of my generation attend church) and maintain the words and motions of the past? I don’t think so. The churches that are attracting the most people these days follow a looser worship format and have much more liberal ideas of what constitutes a church. Although I have great affection for the trappings of sanctuary, congregation and liturgy, I can’t say that the changes that are happening are a terrible tragedy. The polls say that more and more people are searching for spirituality — does it matter how it comes to them, as long as it’s a message of love? I know I sound like a little hippie here, but I don’t care: maybe the next generations will smooth out the differences that have divided the truth-seekers for so long.

After a summer’s absence, I sat in the congregation yesterday morning with an odd feeling of detachment. It’s been so long since I’ve been an objective recipient in my church’s worship service (as opposed to singing in the choir) that everything seemed new and unfamiliar. I fumbled with the hymnbook, squirmed in the pew, and puzzled over the prayers. I don’t know what I’m hoping to find. To recover. A sense of awe, perhaps. A reaffirmation that a truth exists in these rituals. The kindness of the people goes a long way toward making that argument — we’ll see what the next few months bring.