I often think what if I were a young person in church today – what would I think about it all?
Would I feel part of it?
What is it’s relevance to my life today?
Listening to some young people, and hearing others experience, it seems to me that they want Church to remain a continuity factor, of stability and fairly and squarely where they can come back to find it comfortable and unchanging, and to be ready to accept the changes in them as individuals.
Our Parish experience and in of others elsewhere, is that we’ve noticed that while our youth group members, are content to be part of group, they want more than our planned activities. They want the freedom to do more for themselves. As they mature in age and culture, perhaps, between 14 and 18 they tend to drift away or make different choices.
Some opt to move to a much livelier Evangelical parish up the road. Reasons for this can be summarised as its difference in attitude. They find it to have a modern outlook, which seems free, risk taking and experimental in it’s liturgy and worship. We console ourselves that while they’ve left us, they remain within the Christian family.
Others opt to move to a more traditional (than us) Anglo-Catholic/High church, which gives them more smoke and bells than we are comfortable with. Again, we comfort ourselves that they are still within the family of the church.
The third path is the ones who just go off, to the world of work or to further education, and stop being active Anglicans. Socially there appears to be many reasons for this, peer pressure, exploring other types of spirituality, or just a failure of belief. When they return to the family during breaks, they stay away from church as well.
My observation of this category would be that they are not actively against Christianity, just perhaps lured by the attractions of a secular lifestyle and the consumer society, which allows them to express their individuality, without any of the responsibilities maintaining their faith brings.
So, what of their vocation?
Intrinsically, I believe that young people brought up in a faithful, prayerful Christian household, will have that for life, whatever path they choose to take. I cite my own experience of this. Being part of a strict Catholic upbringing, I now see I was given a foundational belief and knowledge of God, which l abandoned in adult life, but behind how I lived and behaved, were Christian moral values – what I lacked was a firm belief and understanding of the true incarnational nature of Jesus Christ and his Gospel of the good news. Once I came in late middle age to receive him into my life, all of that childhood stuff fell into place.
I believe that for many young adults, who might lose track of their Christian faith, will somewhere within retain that spark of the light, which is only dimmed, waiting for some thing, some life event to spark it back into a brilliant light again. There is ample evidence for this in those who return to church perhaps through marriage, bringing a child for baptism or the end of a loved ones life. Others come back later in life, perhaps looking to regain something they lost along the way.
Should we be worried?
I think not. I believe that the Parish model remains strong for the CofE, particularly where we seek to remain at the centre, rather than the fringes of our community. Many more people meet God through the interaction of the Vicar, Curate or church members working in the community, than come through the doors of the church. That place that the young adult leaves, remains there, available and while changed, as they are changed, is receptive and welcoming the prodigal back into the fold of God’s love.
The issue for the church is retaining and keeping open these churches in every community. Maintaining that community presence, which people take comfort with, even if they don’t choose to be part of it. The fiscal burden of maintaining the viability of our churches is well known and a constant issue for congregations, who struggle, heroically, year in, year out with this reality. Bums on seats represent financial viability and provides for the presence of a priest in the community. The Parish Priest is central to all of this and the benefits that he or she reaps for the Kingdom and the church is our mission.
How can we overcome these hurdles?
Surely our mission or quest is to encourage people to recognise vocations and to instil discipleship in all of our people. This to enable them and to grow our churches. We need workers in the harvest, and those workers can come from the young, as they go through life, or in old age. It will only come if their vocation is built on a sound foundation allowing them to respond to the call unselfishly when they hear it clearly.