It’s a coffee shop, mission, church, a venue for musicians and poets, the site of a succesful young adults program and classroom all in one. The Abbey, in Birmingham, Alabama, is a coffee shop ministry supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama and St. Luke’s Church; it has its own vicar – the Reverend Katie Rengers, who is also associate rector for young adults at St. Luke’s.
It’s also a sort of perfect storm of elements: the setting for weekly Education for Ministry (EfM) classes that are now drawing and engaging young adults – right now, 17 of them – to a curriculum and program whose students have traditionally skewed a couple decades older.
According to a feature from Sewanee, Renger, 30 years old,
initially feared that young adults wouldn’t be interested in the amount of reading and time commitment involved in the EfM program.
“Nothing else I have attempted to do with young adults at St. Luke’s has worked at all, but somehow EfM is on fire!” she said. “I feel really strongly that the EfM model works to empower lay people to take active, theological leadership in the church. Younger adults typically feel very disempowered and voiceless in The Episcopal Church. I want my group to feel like they have the scriptural and theological knowledge to become leaders in whatever unique way God is calling them.”
The laid-back setting of The Abbey for study and conversation has been eye-opening in terms of understanding young adults’ approach to church these days:
Rengers noted that the group often discusses the evolving nature of the church “They are a great resource for getting a sense of how Millennials feel about The Episcopal Church, and what they think the future holds,” she said. “They do a lot of complaining about the church. In particular, they get annoyed with the ways the church tries to entertain them with gimmicks.
They also don’t feel like they have a place in the way church leadership is currently set up—they don’t want to be on the altar guild or the flower guild,” she added. “They don’t want to be on a committee. Clubs like The Episcopal Church Women (ECW) just don’t make sense to this generation. Oh yeah, and they really, really don’t want to be asked for money.”
EfM is attractive to young adults because it’s not gimmicky, Rengers said. “The readings come from scripture and tradition—the most fundamental Christian sources. The theological reflections are about real, authentic, often difficult, issues—there are no pre-packaged answers. I’ve heard a couple of my year three participants talk about EfM as ‘life-changing.’ I think the commitment and authenticity EfM requires is very powerful for young adults today.”
Image from The Episcopal Church videos.