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Growing Up (Not) Christian

  • rkurrasch 

Once upon a time, growing up in America meant to some extent growing up as a Christian—or if not actually becoming a Christian, then at least having some understanding of the Christian Story. One did not even need to go to church to become familiar with this Story because the culture at that time participated in its rehearsal.

I can remember praying at civic functions, like high school graduations, for example, or City Council meetings. Sunday morning soccer practice—not a chance! Nativity scenes on the public square; “Christmas” vacation; “Easter” break: nobody complained. Even those who didn’t go to church were “stuck” with the church’s Story as a prevailing feature of the American worldview. The church had lots of support from a cooperative society in telling its Story, but those days are long gone.

United Methodist minister, bishop, and writer William Willimon tells us how they died. It happened on a Sunday evening in 1963 when young Bill and some of his cohorts walked in the front door of their Greenville, South Carolina, Methodist church for Methodist Youth Fellowship but stayed only long enough to be seen before slipping out the back door. Their objective: the Fox Theater had defied the state’s blue laws and opened on Sunday, and part of the Methodist Youth Fellowship voted to go to the movies instead of church that night.

Willimon writes of the significance of this event (Resident Aliens):

That evening has come to represent a watershed in the history of Christendom, South Carolina style. On that night, Greenville, South Carolina—the last pocket of resistance to secularity in the Western world—served notice that it would no longer be a prop for the church. There would be no more free passes for the church, no more free rides. The Fox Theater went head to head with the church over who would provide the world view for the young. That night in 1963, the Fox Theater won the opening skirmish.

He concludes by stressing the point that “Christians are not naturally born in places like Greenville or anywhere else. Christians are intentionally made by an adventuresome church.”

Intentionality, a mark of an “adventuresome church:” It begins with a people of God, shaped by the Story of Jesus who feel themselves called not for privilege but responsibility. Like a beacon on a hill, it draws the rest of us seekers, pilgrims, and other wayfarers who still wonder what it’s all about but thanks to the Fox Theater no longer have a complicit culture to fill in the blanks.