Today I want to mark a milestone that fills me with gratitude:
Michigan Nones and Dones, our new community in Southeast Michigan, has turned one year old. I don’t expect that people will smear cake all over their faces, but to celebrate, people from our community will actually eat a birthday cake over the weekend! I’m looking forward to this.
What a beautiful year. . . Here’s the story of how this all began, along with hopes for year number two.
On October 24, 2015, I was running a variety of errands. While at the Farmers Market in Ann Arbor, an idea popped in my mind. “What would happen if someone started a Meetup Group for Nones and Dones? I wonder what kinds of conversations people would have. . .”
As you may know, Nones and Dones are buzzwords right now in demographic studies and the sociology of religion. The term None describes people who are religiously unaffiliated. As a large, umbrella term, it does not define any one person or grouping precisely. Rather, Nones may include atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, people who describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’, seekers, and increasingly, people who resist labels altogether. The term Done, meanwhile, has emerged to describe people who maintain their religious identity but have left traditional, religious institutions behind. On that day of errands, I wondered, what would happen if there was a conversation group for both?
I was in a season of experimentation, so that evening, as my husband and I watched Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope in our living room, I was multitasking. While laughing at Luke’s dorky comments on Tatooine, I created a new group on Meetup.com. I wrote a description for our group and launched this thing into the world. But truly, I had no idea that this spontaneous decision would form a new community or become a larger-scale vision.
People actually started joining, and it was so exciting to see that happen. When we began to meet in person, there was a clear, recognized need for this kind of community. At our first gathering, two different people drove as much as an hour to meet with us.
Soon after, we had a significant gathering in a local coffee shop. To begin, I simply encouraged people to introduce themselves by answering this question: “Would you self-identify as a None, a Done, something in between, or something else?” I thought this would take just a few minutes, and then, we would explore the topic for the day. Instead, the next hour and a half was beautiful and stunning: Every single person chose to tell the grand arc of their faith and spirituality journey.
In that moment, we all knew we needed to form this into a vision for a larger community.
So we continue to meet in coffee shops and restaurants to talk about faith, spirituality, and our life experiences. We make meaning together. We form friendships together. At times, we talk quite candidly about the challenges and pains that religious communities have created. When those experiences are personal, we ponder how to heal. When those experiences are systemic, we ponder how to reform those very systems.
And now, we’re a year old.
I wonder where year two will take us. . . I hope it includes deeper friendships and continued conversations that are authentic, relational, and transformative. In the last year, I’ve connected with a large number of people about this vision, both local and across the country. Some identify as Nones or Dones, and some are affiliated with various churches and denominations. People are very interested to understand these demographic shifts we are experiencing. But beyond numbers and stats, people are also curious to engage the spirituality and meaning-making that emerges from groups such as ours.
And beautifully, the Presbytery of Detroit recently commissioned me to serve as a Community Chaplain for Nones and Dones, a brand new kind of role. In year two, I hope to facilitate discussions about this role, so that others might be able to serve their communities in a similar capacity. This role is needed. These kinds of communities are needed.
We are all learning and growing. And it is one of the greatest adventures I’ve had the pleasure to experience.
Here’s to the continuation of that adventure. Year number two, here we go!
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