People come to church for all kinds of really good reasons, (see yesterday's post), but amongst them, only two are uniquely served by churches. There are a variety of ways, even in this fractured society, to find community. There are many groups in which one can join with others to be of service. But transformation and religious education are uniquely the purposes of church. (Not that they can't happen elsewhere, of course, but they are one thing that we're about as churches that no other institution is about.)
Therefore it's unfortunate, to my mind, that we don't focus more on these two areas. One particular bee I have in my bonnet is the inordinate amount of time we tend to spend on sex education in our RE programs. It's a worthy and needed cause, and not divorced from faith and transformation, but if you add up the hours we have with, say, our 5-18year olds, (13 years, and hour a week for, let's say, an average of 40 weeks a year) and compare that to the number of contact hours a church doing the entire set of OWL offers and you discover that kids will have spent about 1/4 of their hours and almost all of their "intense" hours on the topic of sex. Most of the kids graduating from our programs know everything they ever wanted to know about sex but don't know much about religious literature, don't have a clue about how to meditate and think a journal is a diabolical tool invented by teachers to torture them.
End of Rant.
But the reason we engage in such an extraordinary amount of sex education, in my opinion, is that we're scared of teaching religion or encouraging transformation. We fill the void as best we can. The problem is not with OWL, it is with the lack of really compelling religious and spiritual programs for kids and youth.
Adults in our churches too often get the same short stick, and often because they themselves are skittish about matters and language of faith and transmit that skittishness to their clergy, who then turn to safer projects of community-building and world-saving. It's a long, hard, risky, project for a minister to work with a congregation to create a worship service which is consistently, deeply inviting people to identify and trust the transformative processes in their lives. And they themselves have mostly been far better prepared in seminary and by our credentialing processes to identify racism than to identify transformation.
I feel another rant coming on and will stop here. It is good to be able to identify racism, and not without transformative potential. But that's not, in the end, what a church is for.