Higher Power: the Grand Organizing Designer

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BY LYDIAN AVERITT |

Photo by Grant Ritchie via Unsplash.com

Photo by Grant Ritchie via Unsplash.com

 
“Nothing too religious,” the mom cautioned our Facebook group. “We’re not looking for anything too heavy. More inspirational, or spiritual.”

The mom, whom I knew only slightly, needed a clergy member. Since she didn’t know any, she had asked our group if we had a name to share, but with this caveat.  

A reasonable request, maybe – except that the request was being made on the behalf of her son, and the occasion was his wedding.

At the risk of seeming judgmental, I indulged in a little disbelief. To Protestant Christians, marriage is a sacred promise; in the Bible, Jesus performs his first miracle at a wedding, turning water into wine at Cana. To have a merely inspirational ceremony seemed, to me, to miss the gravity of the commitment. At this most powerful moment, the young man’s family was choosing to send him off into the next phase of life strengthened by …what?

The family in question isn’t alone. According to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan group of experts that provides social science-driven information to the public, slightly more than a quarter of Americans do not necessarily practice a religion, but think of themselves as spiritual. They say that, while religious people follow the dogma of a certain faith, spiritual people are more free to follow their own faith path, believing in inter-connectedness and a vaguely defined higher power, greater than they but without rules or form.1

Pivotal life events aside, just on a daily basis, is feeling that there is a power greater than you – but stopping short of calling that power “God” – ok? In going through life’s trials and adversities, is mere spirituality, with its abstract connection to a “higher power,” enough?

Yes, says Mike Connors, without hesitation. Connors is the director and clinical supervisor for Greensboro, N.C.’s chapter of The Insight Program, an enthusiastic sobriety program loosely based on the venerable Alcoholics Anonymous, and he spoke to a parents’ group I attended recently. ‘Enthusiastic sobriety,’ I found out, means abstaining from drugs and alcohol – with partying. The 13-25 year olds in the program joke around, smoke and act as rebellious, loud and obnoxious as teenagers can, only with a purpose: to replace the false security and confidence many find in addictive substances with the real thing. Since its founding in 1987, the program has helped tens of thousands of teens and young adults beat drug and alcohol addiction. A key component of the recovery process is the belief in a “higher power.”  

Photo of Mike Connors

Mike Connors, Director and Clinical Supervisor, The Insight Program | Photo by Lydian Averitt

“When these kids come into the program, they’re all over the place,” Connors says. “Some have been in active addiction for years. Some are very willing to admit that their life has become unmanageable, others are resistant to the idea. The thing they all have in common is powerlessness in the face of their addiction. So, the solution must be seeking a power that is greater than the individual alone.”

To explain the program’s “higher power” concept, Insight founder Bob Meehan points in his own writing to C.S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity. The book’s first chapter – the first step of Lewis’s larger plan to demonstrate that Christianity is truth – never mentions a Christian God;  instead, Lewis first establishes that there is power in the universe greater than humans’, and that the power is good.

As a first step in rehabilitating young lives, that belief is all you need, Connors says.

“When a person enters the program, that higher power is the love for the person that is expressed by the group. Many of the youth feel disenfranchised from school, friends, family, and religion, even those who grew up in a faith tradition. The group becomes their social and psychological support.

“We say, ‘Love within, love without, love in between,’ ‘’ Connors says.

There’s the supportive love the group members express for each other. The accepting love of self the program teaches, in order to combat the destructive self-talk to which many of them have succumbed. The outward-turning love for others that allows them to grow.

“The support of the group is love, which is what God is all about, right?” Connors says. “There are lots of parallels to organized religion, but we don’t teach a certain belief system or put a name on it – why would we? The point is the seeking.”

Even if “the greatest of these is love,” seeking the Lord while he may be found gets trickier. Although the group chooses to call the higher power “God,” the individual participants don’t necessarily mean the God they may have grown up with.

“When they first come in, they’re at their worst, and so it often stands for “get over death.’ That’s as much as they’ll allow “g.o.d.’ to be,” Connors says.

“As time goes by, recovery begins and the support of the group kicks in, and it becomes “group of drunks’ or “group of dope fiends.’  Then, more time goes by, and it becomes “good orderly direction:” are you moving forward in life? Are you turning outward to help people instead of dwelling on yourself? Do you have a goal and a purpose? Are you a good, moral, loving person?”

Finally, Connors says, it becomes an acronym for “grand organizing designer.’

“It’s a process,” he says. “As they recover, an almost existential search takes place. They start to say, ‘ok, I know there’s a power greater than me, expressed by the group’s love for me, but I know there’s something still more.‘ It opens them up to the idea of God. It gets the ball rolling.”

Just as “group of drunks” becomes “grand organizing designer,”  so does the participants’ disenfranchisement yield to belief in a power greater than they, and a very Moravian response starts to take place: faith, that their higher power won’t let them down; hope, that they can begin anew; and love for their fellow members and friends.

The saying on Connors's sweatshirt, "Big Enough," answers the question posed by the program, "Is your God big enough?' | Photo by Lydian B. Averitt

The saying on Connors’s sweatshirt, “Big Enough,” answers the question posed by the program, “Is your God big enough?’ | Photo by Lydian Averitt

“I refuse to give God a name, sex or creed,” Bob Meehan writes. “I do insist that they put a period after God, not a question mark.” 2

Is spirituality enough? Maybe so, as a foundation upon which a higher power can build. Whether named or implied, God’s presence is palpable. As their walk together unfolds, maybe God’s plan for some lives can be more fully told.


 

 

  • What Does it Mean to be Spiritual? Consciousbridge.com. April 9, 2013.
  • Meehan, Bob. Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. Meek Publishing, 2000.

 

 


Photo via Lydian Averitt

Lydian Bernhardt Averitt is a freelance writer and editor, and is the coordinator of the family financial planning certificate program at North Carolina A&T State University. She is an amateur musician and a lifelong Moravian who attends First Moravian Church in Greensboro, NC. Contact her at Lydian@triad.rr.com.


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Why Does the Church Struggle With Millennials? Young Adult Moravians Respond

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RESPONSES FROM YOUNG ADULT MORAVIANS |

We recently asked young adult Moravians to respond to this article by Sam Eaton. In the piece, Sam lays out the reasons why more than half of Millennials have dropped out of church. We also asked young adults to share with us their perception of church in general.

The New York Times defines Millennials as being between 20 and 35 years old, or born between 1980 and 1995, give or take a couple years. Below are six responses from Moravian Millennials and their thoughts on the church’s struggle to attract young people.

Young people


1

Many bloggers and church thinkers have written articles on why we Millennials aren’t attending church. I won’t presume to be any wiser than them, and my perspective is admittedly that of a Millennial who does attend church. However, I do know what draws me to the churches I’ve attended. Rather than a rock band and a coffee bar, the two biggest things that attracted me to my church homes have been community and challenging theology.

My wife and I attend churches whose members greet us with a warm, welcoming reception. Instead of us shuffling into an empty pew unchecked, our church homes had members who introduced themselves and invited us to sit beside them during the service (differing themselves from the common “my pew” phenomenon that often exists). Other church members not only excitedly welcomed us, but invited us to stay for fellowship after the service and introduced us among the congregation.

Radical, challenging theology is the other draw. Never have I felt more filled with faith than after a sermon that made me question myself. While there is certainly need for sermons that affirm our core beliefs and tenets, there’s no reason those same sermons can’t relate those to how we can be more radically Christ-like. While I’m hesitant to speak for all Millennials, I will venture to say that many of us quickly lose interest in sermons on safe topics. A pastor who lovingly challenges me to be more charitable, forgiving, and selfless will win my attendance quicker than anything else. Love me. Challenge and teach me to live love. That is what I desire in a church.

-Kyle Todd, member of Bethania Movarian Church, currently attending United Methodist Church Anacortes, Anacortes, WA

 


2

As a Millennial and self-professed Christian, I feel like I’m often tasked with answering for the sins of Christianity, both historical and ongoing. I think my generation struggles with reconciling actions and proclamations of people associated with the church with our values. I would really appreciate candor from the church regarding these discrepancies and guidance on how to actively address these differences while upholding truth and peace.

On another note, a part of the article that really resonated with me was the section on cliquey-ness and the call to “stop placing blame on individuals who struggle to get connected.” I’ve seen church communities fall short on this a lot, and I have failed on this front as well, but an atmosphere of authentic (not transparently forced) inclusion and acceptance (a.k.a. love) would be transformative in a way that appeals to Millennials, in my opinion.

-Alex Ford, (long-distance) member of Kernersville Moravian Church, Mokpo, South Korea

 

Young people


3

Valid points in the article, and I have seen many similar articles lately. I have been sad to see examples where we, as a community of faith, have drawn in, rather than reached out, when we have faced declining attendance and giving. Shouldn’t that provide for the great moments of faith we celebrate from our history? The moments where God calls us to go beyond our own ability to trust something larger may be in the works? Surely we can live like the community we read about in Acts 2-4, and that we hear about from the days of Zinzendorf.

Finally, the article ends with a section titled, “The Truth is, Church, it’s Your Move.” Here is where I disagree. As an older Millennial, but still in the club, I think now is the time for our move-ment. If we feel the lack of resources is driving a sense of deep seated fear drawing the church inward, then isn’t it up to us to take the action (“be the change you want to see in the world”) we are desperately waiting to see? If we want to be seen and heard, and valued, then we need to be willing to jump into the fray with words and actions that add value, and not just critiques to the system.

In many congregations, a group of 20 young adults could join, participate, and collectively wield a loud voice to help shape the growth and ministry of that community.

Yes, the things on the list are concerns to be faced… but the church needs us to be a part of the solution, and not just point out the problem.

-Justin Rabbach, Ebenezer Moravian Church, Waukesha, WI

 


4

The author’s number one reason as to why Millennials are not attending church speaks the loudest; no one is listening to Millennials. Most Millennials are adults (18+) now and they are tired of still being treated as if they were still kids. The church must be willing to implement new ideas from newer generations.

-Anonymous

 


5

I think I agree with most of what is said in the article.

My thoughts are that many perceive churches to lack authenticity, whether that is true or not. The idea of “practice what you preach” is disconnected as churches seem to only look inward with their programs and beliefs. Personally, I hate being lumped into these age group classifications. Sure, they exist and are a way to analyze data but generalizing that data is not healthy sometimes.

Finally, I like Justin Rabbach’s group, Moravian Church Without Walls. Constraining the church to four walls, a steeple, and worship on Sunday morning, is where you miss this large demographic. There are other ways to worship and serve our Lord. Think outside of the paradigm and maybe this “missing” demographic will reemerge; maybe not in the pews, but in other ways.

-Anonymous

 


Church Pews

6

I nodded my head in agreement so many times that I had a crick in my neck by the end of this article. I grew up in the church, my husband grew up in the church, but neither of us has been a regular church member for over a decade. Why? My excuse was always that life got in the way: college, moving away from home, jobs that required work on the weekends. But now we’re in our early 30s, we’re settled in a town we love, we bought a house, we’re off on Sundays, and we both admit that we feel like something’s missing and that something might just be a church family. Yet every time we get a “Welcome to the neighborhood!  Come visit our church!” postcard in the mail I find myself tossing the card in the trash. I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is–what’s really keeping us from finding a church home now?

I felt like every point made in this piece was spot on, but what resonated with me most were reasons 2, 3, and 5 (which I think are all connected). My last memories of church were the painful realization that, for many in my church family, the mission statements, the church politics, the cliquey-ness were more important than helping the people in this world who need it most. As I get older, religion has become more and more about showing kindness to strangers, giving to the poor, and reflecting Christ’s love through actions in my day-to-day life–the values I learned in Sunday school as a kid, but didn’t see the church practice once I got older.

I don’t need a church family to live out those values, and I’m not confident that I could find a church home committed to practicing what they preach. But, it would be so nice to find a place that did, and a place for my future children to learn those same Sunday school lessons that helped shape me into the person I am today.

-Anonymous (forever-a-Moravian-at-heart)

 


Questions? Comments? Contact the BCM at BCM@MCSP.org

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