My grandmother died in 2005, on the eve of the feast of Saints Mary and Martha of Bethany. The next day I went to the weekday eucharist at St. James Cathedral in Chicago, and the story of Martha and her sister brought me instantly to tears. Like so many women of her generation (and not only hers), my grandmother was deeply identified with her hospitality and service. She was a lot like Martha, and I loved her for it.
I am more troubled now than I was then at the way this story is gendered in our reading.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s marriage decisions, debates about the effects on religious groups have dominated the religious blogosphere. “Gay marriage fight now becomes a religious liberty fight,” claims the headline of one Washington Examiner column. Behind such headlines lies a far less univocal history, and no doubt a much more complicated present reaction among religious communities. From this perspective, the fight for marriage equality has always been deeply engaged in religion.
What do young people look for in church? In research done in 250 congregations among people ages 15–29, respondents repeatedly said they were looking for congregations that were “welcoming, accepting, belonging, authentic, hospitable, and caring.” The researchers began to call this set of concerns the “warmth cluster.” Worship bands and ministry programs are not a priority, nor is busyness. Even “niceness” doesn’t work with young people. What they apparently seek at church is a sense of family, which calls for intergenerational relationships (Washington Post, September 6).