A new community at Grace Episcopal Church and the Incarnation in Port Richmond is looking to reimagine how young people can engage in Christianity.
Called “Word & Table,” the community, which targets millennial-aged adults and meets every Tuesday evening at 7, looks to address younger people’s waning engagement with organized religion by providing an alternative manner of approaching it.
The Rev. Brian G. Rallison, the rector at Grace Episcopal, first came up with the idea when he began noticing a general trend throughout his two years in Port Richmond: The newer, younger generations moving into the neighborhood are increasingly more turned off by religion than those who came before them.
“I’m finding out that generally, most 20- and 30-year-olds are disenchanted with the Christian church, period,” Rallison said.
Rallison believes a big reason for it is the fact that practices the Church has engaged in, especially in regard to Mass, for centuries don’t speak to newer generations of prospective Christians in the same way they did before. Word & Table, he believes, provides a solution to that problem.
“We’re creating an intentional community of 20- to 30-year-olds that said, ‘Going to church didn’t work for me. But maybe church can work for me through new lenses,’ ” Rallison said.
While the community’s Masses include some of the more conventional activities such as the receiving of the Eucharist, they don’t feature all of the elaborate, as Rallison calls it, “bells and smells” of Mass. For instance, they feature more modern, jazz-oriented music instead of the usual sounds that have been played for centuries.
“I’m a priest. I love that music. But that’s not how 20- and 30-year-olds find God anymore,” Rallison said.
Additionally, instead of featuring a formal sermon that is preached to those in attendance, Rallison prefers engaging in what he calls “theological reflection.” Conversations revolving around what Scripture and God mean to people in the present day make up the core of that type of dialogue.
“How does God’s story collide with our story? And if those two stories collide, what do we do about the world story today?” Rallison said.
Rallison also stressed the importance of the community being inclusive. All people, regardless of religious background, ethnicity or sexual orientation, are welcome to be engaged in the community’s activities.
“We believe, as Christians, that we find God not just in Scripture, not just in their tradition, but we find God in each other,” Rallison said. “And there are aspects of everybody’s story that will help me better understand who God is.”
Above all, Rallison thinks that approaching Christianity in this manner can help younger people, at the very least, regain some type of interest in the Church.
“The mission of the Church is to reconcile God to the world and each other through Christ,” he said. “And I believe that this is the way that we’re trying to do that for this sliver of the population.”