I ran across an article at Religion News Service that was written by a guest for the Flunking Sainthood column, usually written by Jana Reiss, a member of the LDS Church. In the guest post, the author, Mette Harrison, offered 5 Dos and 5 Don’ts to members of the LDS Church for their upcoming family get-togethers in the months of NOV & DEC. It’s a fact that members of that faith tradition must face today, that 1 out of 3 Mormons will leave the LDS Church. And as most all churches are experiencing, millennials are leaving by the score.
Our family members may leave the Episcopal Church or become inactive for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they don’t actually leave the faith, but they may choose to be a member of a branch of Christianity that is antagonistic towards other branches. Families have a great amount of diversity, both immediate and extended members; children of varying ages, grandparents, aunts, uncles & cousins, in-laws, etc. Many folks in the LGBTQ community have intentional families that stand in when their own families have booted them out and as any family, some of those relationships can become strained, especially by religious differences.
I have used Ms Harrison’s 5 Dos & Don’ts as the starting point and edited them to make them more applicable to Episcopal households. Here are 5 Dos & 5 Don’ts to consider as your families gather for the coming holiday season.
- Show love. This is not always easy or comfortable. And it’s difficult sometimes to tell when it’s appropriate to do something (birthdays? Christmas? grandchildren’s weddings?) and when it’s more appropriate to do nothing. (Hint: do what is asked of you rather than what you think other people should want.)
- Try to respect the wishes of the family members who are inactive or have left the church. If they ask for no contact for a time, respect that they may need some space to process and deal with mental health issues that frequently come with leaving the church. Try contact again after a couple of years, but don’t be a pest.
- If there is to be a family event, make some ground rules about topics of conversation. It can be important to allow the family members who are inactive or have left the church to have some control over this because they may feel overwhelmed in a room with all church members around.
- Meet one-on-one before big family gatherings to build trust so that at least one person can be relied on.
- Find commonalities that don’t relate to church. Bringing up the past can be very painful, but you’re genetically related, so there are bound to be some other safe topics you can talk about. (Hint: It’s likely not politics.)
- Try to reactivate “lost” members by sending their address to a local parish for a visit from the rector, or sending gifts that are church-related — anything that hints that you haven’t accepted their choice to leave.
- Make plans to have prayers as a family for the members who have left. Even if you don’t tell this information to family members, they are bound to find out.
- Do unsolicited parish service projects for the family members who are inactive or have left the church. You may think this is a great way to show love, but it’s condescending and it’s pushy unless they ask to be helped. Even then, be careful about making it church-related.
- Make judgments about personality failings that may have led to their rejection of the church. Just because a family member is stubborn or outspoken doesn’t mean that this is what led to leaving the church. It’s never about one thing.
- Talk about your deep feelings of loss regarding having an “empty chair” at the table. Guilting people into coming back isn’t going to work. It will only poison your contact with them.