10 in Their 20s – In search of a church

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(Host) For ten Mondays, VPR is featuring a new series of commentaries from “10 in Their 20s”, in which members of Vermont’s 20-something generation share their perspectives on issues that matter the most to them – from the local to the global. This week, Gregory Bernhardt reflects on his search for a spiritual community.

(Bernhardt) During the last couple of months, my wife and I have been trying to decide on which local church to attend. Somewhere I’ve read that the painter Van Gogh attended as many services as possible every Sunday of any denomination…which one didn’t matter. Of course, his original ambition in life was to be a minister.

I don’t know if many 26-year olds think about this, since my brother and his wife just chose a church in Philadelphia to attend, and he’s already 33.

Some of our atheist friends ask,”Why do we need to find a church?” And I even ask myself why I seem to need this in the life of myself, my wife and my child.

The answers I come up with are personal and perhaps differ for every individual, because it seems to me that choosing a church is a little like choosing an important part of your identity. And defining your identity by way of a church is a touchy subject these days. Just hearing the name Jesus Christ is enough to make some people turn their cheek. These same people might listen if I try to explain that to me, Jesus was like Socrates – a great philosopher.

But there are other reasons my wife and I want to do this. For one thing, we want to be a part of a community. There is so much in that word: community. We want a community that our child will grow up in and be glad because of it. We want a community where we gather with like-minded individuals who care deeply about one another and all issues of what it means to be human. We seek a place that is sacred, where people enter with respect and find guidance through a world of serious questions.

Community is a popular topic these days. I hear it in so many places; but it has new urgency for me now when for the first time I am deciding what kind of community I want to be a part of. The denomination doesn’t seem that important. We’ll try another if one doesn’t suit us.

I think what were really longing to find is a sacred space and community that is emblematic of everything we value in the world around us. It would be a safe environment, one where we support one another; where we find guidance and confirmation that we are living good, worthwhile lives; where we are reminded to love not only friends and family, but also strangers.

I don’t know exactly why Van Gogh attended so many religious services, but for me, the act of doing so is a statement that says, Yes, I love all community, and yearn to know what it means to others, so I will always understand, respect, and love others.

This is Greg Bernhardt of Leichester.

At 26, Gregory Bernhardt is a farmer and cheesemaker.

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