As an older GenZer, I have complicated feelings about the Church as an institution. I’ve grown up in Black Baptist churches, Black nondenominational churches, and multiracial nondenominational churches. And I think there’s something each of them have to offer that I’ve struggled to find. I appreciate the history and legacy of the Black Church as an institution that was once rooted in liberation and freedom, even if it fails to live up to that history and legacy today. I appreciate the ways nondenominational churches are open to the moving of the Spirit, but they don’t always align with my values, especially as it relates to the importance of social justice in living like Jesus. I appreciate the diversity of the multiracial churches, yet I’m not always a fan of their politics and sometimes their politics are in opposition to my livelihood. So, where does that leave me?
In some ways, that leaves me and others in my generation and the millennials ahead of us who have similar tension without a place to call our spiritual home. As denominations split, as people leave the church for a variety of reasons, and as churches are beginning to be held accountable for the harm that they’ve caused, it’s clear that church as we know it is changing. As members age at a rate that outpaces church growth, it’s clear that something has to shift. We need a new understanding of church. We need a church that welcomes and creates space for all who are called to ministry. We need a church that isn’t afraid to be political; Jesus was political, and that’s why he was crucified. Thus, we need to fully commit to what it means to leave like Jesus. We need a church that is willing to leave behind racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism, and all manner of oppressive mindsets, especially those that we use the Bible to justify. We need theology and Biblical interpretations that meet us where we are. We need a church that cares for the bodies and souls of members, that’s not going to get you saved but leave you homeless. That’s not going to get you saved then actively work toward your oppression. That’s not going to get you saved and then actively speak I favor of policies that work to put your life and future at jeopardy. That’s not going to get you saved and then ignore your physical and material needs.
We need to reimagine and rethink church, and this project bears witness to some of the people who are doing that. There are those who have created new church communities, like Rev. Dr. Paula Hall and The Beloved Community Church or Rev. Kamilah Hall Sharp and Rev. Dr. Irie Lynne Session and The Gathering, A Womanist Church. The Gathering began as a space for people to hear womanist preaching, and it evolved into a church in conversation with those who joined in the community. The Gathering continues to be a place where people can hear womanist preaching and it is a place rooted in womanist values. It is LGBTQ+ affirming. It works to meet the needs of those in the community without having to go through institutional red tape. It is a church that is willing to do the work of justice in the pulpit and in Bible Studies and also go to the protests and advocate for policy change. We need more people who are willing to break from traditional religious spaces and create the kinds of churches that exemplify love and care and acceptance for those in their spiritual communities.
There are those who have created virtual spiritual communities to “fill in the gap” that we can turn to as examples. We can turn to those like Pastor Lyvonne Briggs who developed the Proverbial Experience that has become the sensual faith community. She provided a space on Instagram for people to come and reflect and sometimes grieve and encounter God and honor their ancestors. Rethinking and reimaging church is realized that the Spirit is not limited to the four walls of a church building. The Spirit is not limited to our denominations and religious institutions. It is getting back to the leadership of the people or what the Baptist call the priesthood of believers; we are all capable of encountering God and being used by God. It is realizing that the Spirit can meet us in our brunch conversations, in our backyard cookouts, in our coffee shop meetups…How might we understand church when we come to know an expansive God that is not limited to our church institution and the boxes we would seek to put God in?
So, as a Gen Z minister, I commit to find the spaces that have all that I desire, and if I can’t find it, I’ll create it. I am open to the ways God may move in my life and may move me beyond and outside of established institutions and spaces, whether that be in the Church or in the Academy. I’ll lean into the legacy of Black women and womanists and others who have gone before me in doing the work of creating space and community, many of which are included in those I interviewed. I’ll cultivate and create a space where people can find God, where people can bring their full selves, and that people can call home. Because while the Church as an institution may be dying, the church as the people lives on.