I recently attended a preaching conference in Cannon Beach, Oregon. One of the speakers was Pastor Amanda Zentz-Alo. She is currently serving as pastor of Central Lutheran Church in Portland and working on her Doctor of Ministry. But the most interesting thing about her is that she is also known as FeeNix in the Rose City Rollers. Pastor Amanda plays on a Roller Derby team.
One of the things Pastor Amanda said is that it is not true that Millennials (like herself) are not dedicated or passionate. In fact, what she found was that the members of the Roller Derby team are very dedicated. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money to be on a Roller Derby team - a big investment. And yet these young women are willing to make that investment.
She also said that there is a real sense of community among Roller Derby players. When one player got a spiral fracture which took many months to heal, she noted that team players made sure she had lots of casseroles and other food so she didn’t have to cook.
In many ways, her Roller Derby team is acting like a church, gathering around those members who are ill and taking care of them. They are, indeed, a community of dedicated people.
So what makes the Church different from any other group of people gathered around a common interest? I’m going to suggest that while Christ is certainly everywhere, and that God is already working within the Roller Derby community, what we have is the acknowledged presence of Jesus in our midst. In a letter to Zwingli about Christ’s presence in communion, Luther wrote that “God is as present in your cabbage soup as in the sacrament. The difference is that God is hidden in the soup and revealed in the sacrament.” What made the difference was that Jesus bound himself to the bread and wine of the sacrament. “This is where I am to be found.” Without the Word of God, this eating and drinking does not help spiritually.
It is Christ that differentiates the Church from other groups, many of whom do a LOT of good things and create a sense of community. However, here at Messiah, I get to offer people Jesus in both Word and Sacrament every Sunday. The challenge is how to share that Good News that the God of Forgiveness and Grace shows up Sunday after Sunday here in our midst.
What I took away from Pastor Amanda’s presentation is that Millennials are just as interested in community and can be just as committed as any other age group. They are willing to give time and money to a cause they believe in. Right now, that is not, for the most part, the Church.
But I firmly believe that Jesus is interested in becoming more visible to the unchurched community around us. The challenge is to find ways to make that happen, to do things that we have not done before and to take risks for the sake of the Gospel. I ask you to join me in prayer, not for new members, but that we be vessels and seed-scatterers of the Good News of God’s unconditional love for all people, that Messiah be a light of this on the hill here in Shadle.