What the “Nones” tell us

The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-Charge - Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

There are a growing number of “Nones” in our country. These are people who are not affiliated with any religion, are agnostic, or atheists. According to a 2015 Pew Research report, “There are 19 million more Nones now than there were in 2007. And at 56 million strong, there are more Americans who are unaffiliated than there are Catholics and mainline Protestants. Fewer than half of young adults ages 18 to 30 are sure God exists. In a few years, the largest ‘religion’ in the U.S. will be None.” (Time Magazine (09/26/16) S. Schrobsdorff article)

For traditional Christians this is disheartening news. We experience dwindling membership in many of our churches with fewer children. Some churches have tried to entice the young by changing musical styles in worship. The organ used to be standard in churches that use instruments. Today a number of new churches don’t have organs but use piano, drums and other percussion instruments, guitars, strings, woodwinds, and brass instruments. Some mega churches

have orchestras. The music is contemporary and performed like a concert production. While this kind of music has an appeal for many, traditional worshipers may find this style more like entertainment rather than worship.

My experience with Nones is limited, but some who have given up traditional Catholic and Protestant institutional participation are still looking for meaning in their lives and find that meditation and yoga can be helpful to find inner peace. While this search may be pursued as a self-help program, some discover that there is a power greater than the individual self. They are turned off by Christians who take all the Bible stories literally as if they were history, but their skepticism about a Creator still leaves them with a sense of awe and wonder about the world we live in. Nones can often recognize an essential human need to pursue the miracle of creation and to give it meaning. They discover that there is a spiritual dimension to life within the material world. Human emotions can in themselves be mystical realities shared in relationship that surpasses the desire for possessions. As some Nones say, “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.”

Our life cycle includes the birth and death of institutions. Many of our denominational practices and customs have little appeal to the younger generation.

Traditional expressions of worship and the social nature of our churches can be preserved, but our way of doing things may eventual change or even die. Perhaps the Nones who have no religious affiliation will get together in small groups to share their experiences as they look to their inner lives. Some of these groups may become organized; and lo, they may create new institutions that will have their own life cycle.

I don’t think we need to fret about the Nones. God works in mysterious ways. Perhaps there will develop a renewed sense of the interior presence of God in a love relationship. That may be what God wants from all of us anyway.

The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-Charge

Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

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