Meet my seatmate, Drew.
On Monday I flew from Portland to Fresno for my twice yearly synod forum where the ten presbytery leaders of the Synod of the Pacific share notes, learn from each other and challenge each other as we seek to serve our presbyteries with as much courage and love as our busy little bodies can muster.
Drew was sitting next me in the aisle seat and I was in a more chatty mood than my usual self (most of the time I use my flying time as permission to not have to talk to anyone, answer phones or check emails and enjoy the luxury of marinating in my own thoughts). I wanted to talk this time and Drew politely obliged.
I can’t say that I was looking for a blog topic, but I am amazed at how often a conversation in the day or two before my blog deadline turns into a blog topic. This was one of those times.
Drew and his wife (who was unfortunately seated a few rows ahead of her husband) were off to a tenth anniversary vacation visiting parks, wineries and whatever else might hit their fancy day to day. I also discovered this couple were no strangers to the church. Both had grown up in the Protestant church—she as a Presbyterian and he in a loose network of progressive Baptist churches. More importantly, following college graduation, they joined a church as a couple and he became the paid accompanist for the church and she a regular soloist.
Then they moved to Oregon to teach music in Oregon public schools. It’s been two years now since they have attended church. I pressed a little more and tested out his knowledge of religious trends. I explained to him how we are referring to some people who don’t attend church as Nones and Dones—Nones being those who have no religious preference at all and Dones being those church faithful who have decided that they can be more faithful without the church than with it. I asked him if he felt like he and his wife fit in either category.
Drew didn’t hesitate at all before saying, “I have heard of the Nones and we definitely are not part of that group. A Christ-centered church is really important to us. But we also aren’t part of the Dones because eventually we hope to get back to church.”
I asked him what changed between the time when he and his wife were deeply engaged in the life of the church as musicians and now had not even looked for a new church in their new location. Drew responded, “Quite honestly, it is the first time in our lives that we have allowed ourselves to take two days off in a row without any responsibilities to work or church. By the time we finish teaching school on Fridays we are both pretty tired. Church feels like something we have to gear up for and we just really need to rest and enjoy some time.”
It got me thinking. Traditionally Sunday worship was intended as a way to observe Sabbath—a time of letting down and having permission to not work. My sophomoric understanding of the Jewish tradition is that all work was supposed to be performed on Friday before sundown so that a full twenty-four hours could be dedicated to one’s relationship with God and the enjoyment of the fruits of our labors. I was struck that for this childless, but working couple, that sabbath rest is what they were yearning for and that the church was not their first choice for sabbath possibilities.
In fact, Drew admitted that they have begun to enjoy the Portland tradition of going out to brunch on either Saturday or Sunday. I shared that weekend brunch is like a religion in Portland and he added that it has some of the elements of church—people standing in line talking to each other, sharing in a community experience, and anticipating a good meal in the same way church folks anticipate a good sermon or choir anthem. He also said that the food is a big part of the experience reflecting that in past locations where they lived there were chain restaurants where one could get breakfast, but in Portland the food is as much about experiencing and participating in the character and ethos of Portland.
But Drew said they are not done with the church. They are just enjoying a break for now after years of teaching during the week and prepping for church on the weekend. The good news is that Drew and his wife are likely to show up sometime in the coming months and years in one of our mainline Protestant congregations. He was very clear about what they want—a progressive, Christ-centered congregation that takes care of each other and has a choir steeped in classical music. He even asked for the names of the Presbyterian churches that fit that description which I gladly shared with him.
There has been a lot written about the Nones and Dones of the Pacific Northwest—those who are increasingly removed from the narrative of the institutional church. It was refreshing to meet a young man who didn’t fit either of those categories. He and his wife are neither none nor done, but for now, if they must make a choice between gearing up for church on Sundays or taking sabbath, they are going to choose sabbath (and maybe a brunch location with hundreds of other Portlanders).
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” reads the fourth commandment.
What does that mean in a 24/7 culture?
Names have been changed and liberties have been taken with the conversation to represent a composite of previous conversations of similar nature.
Written by Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades