(Note: Don’t forget the previous disclaimers. Fair warning: I get just a wee bit preachy here.)
A few months ago, a splendid step-by-step plan for how to get young people into church began circulating. I think that list – and lists like it — are worthy of consideration as a way to move forward together (as I pointed out, this is part of what our Bishops have been doing in their retreat this week). Therefore, in light of these little substandard ruminations on the Boomer/Millennial divide, I think it’s time that I tell you what this twenty-something thinks as a way that we might all proceed. And, because we are the church where every voice is important, these are open to discussion. Here are my five ways to go together in procession into the twenty-first century.
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1. Calm Down:
As I said in my previous post, the desperation of being in the perceived throws-of-death just reeks off of the Episcopal Church sometimes. And, as I’ve pointed out, there is some cause for concern. To be frank, I used to wonder if there will still be an Episcopal Church in thirty years (as have several other twenty-somethings I know). That was until I watched the segment in “God’s Business” from Al-Jezerra English on the Church of England that pointed out:
“Maybe reports of the slow death of the Anglican Church are premature: falling congregations, chronic money problems could be a passing phase, a little local difficulty. After all, the Church of England has been in such a position before. On Easter Day in 1800 just six people – yes, six – took communion in St. Paul’s Cathedral. On the day we attended, the deacon’s ordination, there must have been a thousand communicants. So many, in fact, that there were queues all over the Cathedral.” (8:31-9:06, emphasis mine)
If I am understanding it correctly, the Church’s attendance ebbs and flows over decades and centuries. For example, thirty years before 1800, John Wesley and George Whitfield were lighting up revival in England and in America, as were the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Thirty years after that ill-attended Easter Service, John Keble preached his famous Assize Sermon, effectively launching the Oxford Movement, which propelled the Church of England for the next one hundred years. How dangerous would it be for the celebrant at St. Paul’s that day to say, “Well, that’s it, boys, Anglicanism is done for. Hang up your cassocks and burn your Prayer Books.” So, too, is it dangerous to look at our dwindling numbers and financial issues and think that Anglicanism is finished or that we have to radically change who we are to keep up with the wider culture! We are not finished, yet!
We must never, never, never forget that the Church is Christ’s Bride – the visible and tangible representation of the Kingdom of God on Earth – and the faith we have is a gift from Christ. Therefore, we cannot do as we please with it or substantially change it with the whims of cultural fancy. Calm down. Christ will not let his Church die. Trust in God; do not be so desperate; do not fear the present nor the future.
2. Be unashamedly who you are in Christ:
While reading this series, I know that some of you have been thinking that I want to turn every Episcopal Church into a St. Clement’s or a Smokey Mary’s. I assure you I do not! Nor do I think every Episcopal Church should be a St. Gregory Nyssa or the mega-church down the street. No! I think each Diocese, each Parish and each Episcopalian-in-the-pew should discover who they are in Christ and live out the Good News in their own peculiar way. Not all are called to be Anglo-Catholic Churchmen nor are all called to be iconoclastic revolutionaries! We are called to be who we are in Christ – both as individuals and corporately. And it is Christ who gives us unity and the authenticity that the Millennials so long for.
3. Do not do evangelism through worship:
This dovetails right off of #2. Do not – I repeat – DO NOT ever plan your services around what you think reaches people. Worship is not Evangelism. Worship is not for the people. Worship is for God. Stop pandering; it is insulting to both Our Lord and Milllennials. Therefore, plan your services around what glorifies God the best in your own setting. If you’re in a university town with a good music program, you could probably pull off a Solemn High Choral Mass with a setting of Mozart or Haydn. If your Parish has a strong folk group that can lead singing in a decent and appropriate way – use them. Do not water down your classically-trained folks nor expect Palestrina from your contemporary group. Use what you have and what best glorifies God in your own setting. This authentic expression of praise will resound with Millennials — no matter the style! This is about beauty and authenticity.
4. Do evangelism the old fashioned way:
You know all those old things like feeding the poor, clothing the naked, giving cups of water to the thirsty and being a listening ear to the broken-hearted. Take casseroles to those who are grieving. Visit someone in the hospital. Call your lonely parishioners frequently and often. Again, this takes a great deal of knowledge and confidence about who we are in Christ to be able to do this. Struggle with addiction? Help those who are addicted. Struggle with self-righteousness? Keep your good works to yourself. Do not forget that worship happens inside the Nave, but evangelism happens outside it. As Bishop Frank Weston once so eloquently said:
“Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”
This is the evangelism that we are called to. And many Millennials are yearning for such selfless service.
5. Let Millennials begin to share in the decision making:
You remember how you felt when you were a twenty-something and you felt like you had so much to say to the world? Do you remember how stifling those in authority were? Well, I hate to tell you this, but you’re the “man” now (you have been for awhile) and you can be just as stifling as your parents were. Shocking, I know.
I think it is time that you start letting Millennials in on the conversation. Be respectful of what these twenty-somethings say, because they’ll probably sound like your grandparents and (for some of you) what they say may be extremely challenging to understand. Neither of us should ever forget that we’re operating on two different parts of the playground. So, please, don’t accuse us of being “uncreative”, “boring”, “lacking of insight”, “stodgy” or “that we’ll understand it better when we get older”. And we promise we won’t accuse you of being washed-up hippies who are stuck somewhere in the Nixon Administration.
We’re in this together. We share Christ and the faith. Let’s move together in mutual respect and admiration. Millennials respect you and your voice. Will you respect ours?
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
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So, these are just five quick tips from this twenty-something about how to engage Millennials. But I still don’t think I’ve answered that question originally posed by The Episcopal Cafe, which is, “What does this mean for the Church.” In the final installment, I’ll take my best guess at where we’ll be in fifty years.
(More to come in Part V, the finale)