Presbyterians Today

OCT-NOV 2017

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12 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2017 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay T wo years ago, as the Rev. Renee Roederer was shopping in a bustling farmers market in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a thought came to her: What would happen if people with no religious affiliation, called "nones" and "dones," got together? What kind of conversation would they have? When Roederer had her brain- storm, the terms "nones" and "dones" were just creeping into the national vocabulary, thanks to a Pew Research Center 2015 Religious Landscape Study on the decline of religious affiliation. "Nones" is the term often used to refer to atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and others who resist most forms of organized religion. "Dones" are those who left traditional religious organizations after being hurt, disil- lusioned or burned-out by a church. Intrigued by the idea of getting these folks together, Roederer created a new group on Meetup.com inviting local nones and dones into conversation. To her great surprise, people responded enthusiastically, and the online group soon held their first in-person gathering in a local coffee shop. "I was stunned," Roederer said. "There was an incredible outpour- ing of stories relating to experiences folks had in traditional congrega- tions. Although the participants did not know each other well, they shared very personal stories about ways in which they were hurt or alienated by the church. It was amazing how many people said, 'That happened to me, too!' " The meeting turned into a regular group event. Calling them- selves Michigan Nones and Dones, they continue to gather for conver- sations in locations around Ann Arbor. The conversations center on thoughtful spiritual inquiry, with participants sharing questions and experiences in a meaningful way. Despite the group's continuing vibrancy, Roederer has become uncomfortable with the very terms she used to gather people together in community two years ago. She says, "Some people have authenti- cally embraced the term 'none' or 'done' and use it as a self-descriptor, but many don't, and the terms can be dismissive because they define people by what they are not, or worse, who we religious people say they are not, rather than who they are. The church often sees these people and says, 'How do we get them?' as if religiously unaffiliated people are people to acquire and thus shore up our institutions." Roederer's doctor of ministry project at Austin Theological Seminary focuses on what reli- giously unaffiliated people imagine as ideal traits, practices and organi- zational forms for spiritual com- munities. For Roederer, the primary question is not what people reject, but rather what they value. "It is rare for someone to say that they are attracted to any religious community because everyone agrees LEADERS Christianity without church Talking faith with 'nones' and 'dones' BY SUSAN ROTHENBERG The Presbytery of Detroit recognizes the work Renee Roederer does with people unaffiliated with churches as a validated ministry. Some of the participants have never been to churches while others say they are done with organized religion. Hence the name Michigan Nones and Dones. COURTESY OF RENEE ROEDERER

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