Briefly, if sadly, noted: As the congregation of St. Stephen's in Reno, Nevada, prepares to shutter its doors in November, some traces of hope remain: even without their historic structure, members say they can still be Episcopalians who serve one another and care about where they live.
"It's been the university's church all those years, but participation has waned," said Deacon Jim McGrew, who is executive assistant to the Nevada's Episcopal bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards. "As I understand it, the church has 31 regular, contributing members, and that became unacceptable because we just could not keep it open that way.
"It's too bad because it's a very nice church, and we'll probably sell the building," McGrew said.
Many of those who attended St. Stephen's plan to remain active in the area's Episcopal community and keep in touch with each other.
Meanwhile, a congregation serving a university community has its particular challenges, not the least of which has been social media and its effect on Millennial-generation thinking. So says experimental psychology prof Richard Beck.
But Millennials are in a different social situation. They don't need physical locations for social affiliation. They can make dinner plans via text, cell phone call or Facebook. In short, the thing that kept young people going to church, despite their irritations, has been effectively replaced. You don't need to go to church to stay connected or in touch. You have an iPhone.
Sure, Millennials will report that the "reason" they are leaving the church is due to its perceived hypocrisy or shallowness. My argument is that while this might be the proximate cause the more distal cause is social computing. Already connected Millennials have the luxury to kick the church to the curb. This is the position of strength that other generations did not have. We fussed about the church but, at the end of the day, you went to stay connected. For us, church was Facebook!
The pushback here will be that all this Millennial social computing, all this Facebooking, isn't real, authentic relationship. I'd disagree with that assessment. It goes to the point I made earlier: Most of our Facebook interactions are with people we know, love, and are in daily contact with. Facebook isn't replacing "real" relationships with "virtual" relationships. It's simply connecting us to our real friends. And if you can do this without getting up early on Sunday morning why go to church? Particularly if the church is hypocritical and shallow? Why mess with it?