The younger generation are good at trusting their instincts and have the self-confidence to act on them; I admire them greatly. For many the process of becoming oneself is best undertaken away from the church. Both the Bible and the Church, while a help to some, are an impediment to the searching of others; they can no longer connect in any real and meaningful way with either the life or the worship of the church.

It is sometimes said that within the church are the people who are the believers and the belongers; although in fact there are within it, too, those who are belongers but not believers. These people want to belong to a community with ethical values, but do not necessarily share the theological vision.

Outside the church are the vast majority of the younger generation, and many older adults too (people say to me: 'I am an ex-such and such' i.e. ex-Catholic, or maybe ex-Church of Ireland). This group of people are those who in their own way are believers, but not belongers. At least that is how it seems to many within the church as they look out at this growing group of people outside.

In fact, I think, that this group of so-called believers but not belongers are, in truth, belongers, too; and in a very good sense.

Yes, most of them do not belong to any other religious tradition or movement, although some, for example, may be exploring Islam or Buddhism. However, to my mind at least, they are belongers in that they belong to what I call the 'movement of the heart'. It is within your own heart, that you will find much of the meaning of life and of being human, and maybe some day a sense of what a credible God might be like in so far as we can imagine such a deep mystery; and none of us can ever prove there is a God or that there is not.

My message is: become yourself first, look for meaning later on. If going to Church to worship is something that works for you, that is fine, but still question and think about what you believe and why. Others find that the liturgy of the churches is irrelevant , over wordy, outdated. If that is the case for you, don't worry, it is OK not to go to Church to worship. Secondly, because I do not find it credible to believe that at Christmas we are giving thanks for a package which contained the Saviour of the world and the answer to humanity's need, failure or bewilderment, I do not think you are turning your back on something of immense importance like that. Jesus, of course, like all of us had his birth; but his significance, to my mind, is other than what mainline Christianity has been saying.

So if you are carry baggage from your past and from your upbringing, I suggest that you put it down, leave it and move on unencumbered. Leave the guilt, if that is what you felt, behind. Be free, you are free to be yourself, to discover your own selfhood in your own way. If there is a God, He/She will always know where you are.

You actually may discover a different vision of God, of a God who does not need to be constantly worshipped, or thanked or praised.

Perhaps you feel a sense that you have been entrusted with the precious gift of a human life: you want to enjoy it, develop it and use it, and are prepared to suffer within it too. It's how you live out your life that is important; your ethical code or your religion perhaps will be 80% practical at least, 10% theoretical and allow for 10% escapism (we all want to soften the harsh challenges of life). Your life of action is maybe your own way to acknowledge your gratitude for the gift of life. If there is a 'What or a Who' within and beyond the mystery of life, then your actions are your 'Thank you'.

You do not have to be in a church every Sunday to say so, and especially if you cannot connect with what goes on in a church anyway. Many years ago now a UN Secretary General, Dag Hammerskjold, kept a diary of his private thoughts as they developed on his understanding of the meaning and purpose of his life. He wrote: 'For what shall be Yes'. We only pass this way once, and to quote Shakespeare 'to thine own self be true'.

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