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 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 They will tolerate outdated worship spaces covered in countless shades of off-white and the same silk floral arrangement that’s been sitting next to the alter since 1973.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.”
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.