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A letter from an exhausted, exasperated young person

A letter from an exhausted, exasperated young person

Hat top to the Rev. Steve Pankey who pointed us to this letter at the Scriptorium blog maintained by the Grunewald Guild. Having just returned from the Chicago Consultation’s gathering of bishops and young adults, it really resonated with me.

These two passages will give you a flavor for the piece, which is worth reading in its entirety:

I exist in a world of diversity and globalization, of extreme expression and sharing (a la social networking). I engage a society and culture that connects virtually, that speaks more with sounds and images and “Likes” than it does words, and where the words themselves are becoming symbols and codes for other words through an almost tribal form of emotive texting. I am comfortable with (and actually excited by) the mashing up of ideas and concepts and sources into a cacophony of stories and thoughts and experiences (notice my almost obscene use of hyphens?) in which there isn’t any one right answer or message save for the one that YOU take away from the whole thing. I am deeply postmodern. This is the world I live in. This is my experience of existence.

Except at church.

At church I step back into a veritable time warp…and I’m not talking about a “This is so old/ancient it’s cool!” sort of scene, but more of a “Why does this place smell like my grandma’s living room? Seriously, it smells JUST LIKE her house” sort of vibe.

And:

And here’s the clincher: young people will put up with a LOT* …to a point. They will put up with dreary music. They will tolerate outdated worship spaces covered in countless shades of off-white and the same silk floral arrangement that’s been sitting next to the alter since 1973. So the fact that they are willing to let a lot of things slide, yet are still so meagerly present in so many congregations is a problem worth worrying about.

Because there are a couple things young people simply won’t tolerate. They will not put up with what they deem to be a lack of community and/or authenticity, and they will not abide anything that appears to simply be going through the motions or the semblance of just being part of some spiritual/religious club. They aren’t interested in towing the party line that has no bearing on their social and cultural experiences. And–most terrifying to previous generations–they aren’t threatened by threats of “It has to be this way or nothing at all.”

Why?

Because this is a generation of self-starters and micro-entrepreneurship. They have no problem whatsoever starting up their own things. And they have been. And they are. And they will continue to do so.

And they’re not coming back to darken the doors of the places that insisted it had to be done THIS way and THAT way or it couldn’t be done at all. Churches have been reduced to elementary school playgrounds with the endless bickering and threats made by this faction or that one taking their proverbial ball and going home. And those playgrounds are getting noticeably more empty.

I appreciate that the author, whose name is Ron, and who may be Ron Skylstad of the Guild, although I couldn’t verify that, isn’t talking about one particular denomination, but about a broader phenomenon. That is a helpful antidote to looking for scapegoats close at hand. I would love to hear from people who think they have some sense of how our church, or any church, can move forward at this point in a way that is attractive to young adults. My sense–and perhaps our concerns about the structure of the Episcopal Church here on The Lead have contributed to this–is that people are looking to the Church Center or General Convention that can’t be solved by programming or legislation, but that have to do with the vitality of our congregations. Of course, I could be wrong about that.

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Weiwen Ng

The comment on authenticity is interesting, and I'd like to address it.

There is a very, very wide range of authentic Christian experience and worship. There should be, imo.

However, what's authentic to the Boomers and their seniors isn't necessarily authentic to young adults.

In my experience, Boomers and seniors have been unwilling to change their worship styles, for example, to reflect this.

Too many Episcopal Churches have a worship style that I don't find authentic, and that I suspect many other young adults don't. Now, the young adults who do find it authentic, are already in church, so this is NOT universal. But notice how few of them there are.

So, readers should NOT take the Scriptorium blog's statement that young folks not putting up with inauthenticity as an indictment of themselves. What folks like me are indicting is an unwillingness to acknowledge that our liturgical tastes, for example, aren't the same as others. There is no room for a style of worship that I find authentic in most Episcopal Churches, so I haven't been back. Make room by funding youth ministries. Make room by changing some elements of the services (more piano, less organ, more a capella, more guitar - those can be authentic to the 1982 Hymnal songs and LEVAS).

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Maplewood

Ed.: my apologies. I forgot to change my profile. I am Kevin McGrane. I'll need to figure how to change all this.

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Murdoch Matthew

Ted Rall comments on the loss of common culture.

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Maplewood

Enjoyed the essay immensely. Seriously. May I ask Ron a couple of clarifying questions, please???

Contemporary service? OK. Sounds great. How about using some of that youthful entrepreneurial spirit and plan a contemporary service for us, held before or after the boring one? I’ll attend. I do want to see what an authentic service looks like.

Authenticity? I’m a bit confused. What does this authenticity look like? In my parish we have 4 different poverty/food ministries, women’s shelter program, Habitat for Humanity teams, as well as relations with parishes in Lakota Sioux reservations, South Sudan, and Guatemala. We travel every year to help build clinics and schools and wells in these places. This is inauthentic? Ok; perhaps it is. We had one young adult trip planned and 25 people expressed interest – only 5 ended up going. Is this the kind of authenticity Ron is referring to? Maybe I don’t understand authenticity. I stand ready to be educated.

Community? Cool! What does that look like? From my limited experience, community is rather messy. There are cranks and whiners among us, both young and old - we are disciples, not perfect. Ever get flamed by a text from a 58 yr old? Probably not. They were 26, maybe? Did you write off your entire generation based on one incident? Should we write off another generation based on one crank who tells kids to pipe down?

Virtual? It’s been my experience that technology is used to keep people at arm’s length, not create human relations. Text and twitter are walls, not doorways; they are used to keep people from not getting too close. Connection is instant, yes, but shallow. No eye contact, no touch, no reality. And we should embrace this? Really? Jesus held The Last Supper where real people were present, not The Last Twitter.

I look forward to the ensuing conversation! Thanks! 🙂

Dear Maplewood - please sing your name when commenting. ~ed.

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laurenstanley

I have just read the entire piece written by "Ron" (odd that we have no idea who this person might be), and can say this:

It is not just his generation that will not tolerate TAWADI (That's the Way We've Always Done It). ANY newcomer who finds a parish that is unwelcoming, that is bickering over piano vs. organ, that is unwilling to even consider change, that is locked into the same-old, same-old, is going to walk away, most likely thinking: "This isn't for me."

Life is change. Life is dynamic. We don't do the same things at 20 that we did at 10, at 30 that we did at 20, at 40 that we did at 30.

So what do we need to do? Infuse our liturgy with welcome and life. We can use the same words we use now (and here I include Enriching Our Worship as well as Rite I) ... but if we are doing liturgy as a "task," if we are mouthing the words by rote, if we remove the feeling and expression that we actually love the Lord, we will have more people quitting than staying, because we haven't touched their souls.

Every piece of the liturgy should be a love song to and with God. I don't "say" the Psalms; I invite people to "pray" them. I don't "recite" the Creed. I invite people to "pray" it. I try to make everything I do in the liturgy invitational and welcoming and loving. Do I always succeed? No. But I try.

If we at least try, the church and the Church will be strengthened. It's when we give up and lock ourselves into the old ways "just because" that we begin to die. And I don't mean just numerically. We die spiritually as well.

Again: This is not limited to one generation. I see it across every generation in every place I visit.

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