Young adults pursue walk with God in other Christian traditions

May 23, 2012 | Young Voices
Aaron Epp | Special to Young Voices

Sometimes when people change churches or denominations, it is because they are looking for a more contemporary form of worship. For Jonathan Dyck, it was the opposite—one of the things he appreciates about switching from a Mennonite church to worshipping in an Anglican one is how rooted the Anglican church is in liturgy, and saying and singing the same words every Sunday.

Dyck, who grew up attending Covenant Mennonite Church in Winkler, Man., began attending St. Margaret’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg when he was a student at Canadian Mennonite University. Today he attends Christ Church, an Anglican parish in Edmonton, where he is finishing his Master’s degree in English Literature and Cultural Theory at the University of Alberta.

“Part of what drew me to St. Margaret’s, and what kept me going there, was the sense of history that they had,” the 26-year-old says. “They seemed very rooted in their liturgical tradition and I appreciated the repetition of the liturgy each week. Finding new meanings in old words appealed to [me].”

North America’s religious landscape has shifted in many ways over the past two generations. In 2009, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, an extensive survey detailing statistics on religion in America, found that more than one quarter of the 35,000 Americans who responded to the survey had left behind the tradition in which they were raised. If you count movement within Protestantism, that proportion rose to over 40 per cent.

People change churches and denominations for a variety of reasons. Daniel Eggert says he began attending the church he now worships at because it has inspired his faith in new ways. Eggert grew up at First Mennonite Church, Edmonton, and now attends Church on 99, a popular non-denominational church in the city. Eggert appreciates the explicitness with which the leadership at Church on 99 talk about issues like finances, friendship, marriage and sex from the pulpit.

“It’s inspired my faith,” Eggert explains. “By going [to Church on 99], my relationship with God has grown, I’m excited about God, I’m excited about sharing God with other people, and just by having that relationship with God, sort of everything else in life happens in a really wonderful way.”

Rudy Dirks, lead pastor at Niagara United Mennonite Church (NUMC) in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., says he has observed young adults from other denominations joining his congregation, as well as young adults who grew up at NUMC leaving to attend different churches. If someone goes to a different church and they are able to draw closer to God as a result, they go with Dirks’s blessing.

“The kingdom of God is much bigger than one congregation [or] even than one denomination,” he says. “It’s much better that we have people who feel free to pursue their walk with God in other churches and denominations than if they would leave the church altogether and feel they couldn’t pursue God.”

Attending Church on 99 has certainly helped Eggert pursue God. He values his upbringing in the Mennonite Church and says the things he was taught affect the way he handles himself as a commercial property developer. He appreciates the community at First Mennonite that helped raise him, and he still worships at the church on occasion.

Still, while social justice and service are important to Eggert, he believes the Mennonite Church is missing an opportunity when it focuses on those things at the expense of inspiring people in their faith. “I think right now the [Mennonite Church] has to make a decision on whether it wants to clothe the naked and feed the poor, or whether it wants to be a community of followers of Christ,” he says.

“By focusing continually on social justice and motivating people to take action in that regard, it’s a little bit like harvesting all the crops and not re-planting the seeds—like owning a stock and taking all the dividends and never reinvesting. We can focus on the outcomes of faith, which are things like social justice, changing our marriages, changing our society for the better, and that’s good, but if we don’t continue to focus on faith and growing the number of believers, then it minimizes the future fruits.”

Dyck from Christ Church says he now worships in a non-Mennonite setting because it is something that he feels called to and something he wants to be a part of. At the same time, he still renews his membership at Covenant Mennonite Church each year.

“If I ever live in Winkler, that will be my church—no question,” he says. “I feel like the relationships that I’ve made at Covenant are going to be with me for a long time.”

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