(Note: Of course, do not forget the disclaimer. Please also read the previous four posts before reading this one, if you haven’t already.)
As you may recall, an article on a CNN Poll by The Episcopal Cafe inspired this whole series of posts on the growing divide between Boomers and Millennials. The article specifically asked the question, “What does this mean for the Church?” These shoddily written posts set about haphazardly answering several questions — except the one actually posted by the Cafe. I’ve been saving my answer to this important question for this last post; therfore, I’m going to imagine what life will be like in the Episcopal Church in thirty years. Please, keep in mind that I am not a prophet and I readily admit that a few of the following are simply things I wish would happen. Here’s what I think the Church will look like in thirty years – the good Lord willin’ and the crick’ don’t rise. I also welcome your opinion and theories on the future.
There will be a few more years of decline, followed by a slow, but spectacular rebirth:
I am afraid that things will get worse before they get better. But, we must not forget that “except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (Jo. 12:24) Some of the structures that have been operating for the last fifty years will slowly begin to die. Our President of the House of Deputies has been acknowledging this as of late, as she and our Presiding Bishop are talking about ways to make the structure of the Episcopal Church a little leaner (I can’t find a link for this). The fact that certain parts of the Episcopal Church will continue to die seems to be a foregone conclusion and is one that I will not argue. I will not gander a guess at which parts of the Church will die and which will remain.
In a few years, however, this leaner, sleeker and more mobile Episcopal Church will be free of a lot of the unnecessary weight that it has carried for so long. And Millennials will find it to be a perfect place to do ministry – an almost blank slate, if you will. Therefore, this kernel of wheat that died will then start to grow again. I firmly believe that the next few decades will like those six communicants at St. Paul’s on Easter morning, followed thirty years later by the Oxford Movement. And I believe the Millennials are uniquely prepared as a generation for this to happen.
The burgeoning Episcopal Church of the 1950’s – or any age — can never return. But the Church of 2020 will. That is, of course, if our dioceses, our parishes and every Episcopalian-in-the-pew continues to discover their true authenticity in Christ and begins to live it in the Church and out in the streets. This is what Millennials need — this is what the world needs!
A new sexual ethic:
The Baby Boomer days of free love, usually outside the bounds of at least a misty form of commitment will slowly come to an end. While I don’t think Episcopal Boomers are advocating free love, as it were, they have also not been putting forth a sexual ethic, either. For fifty years, by in large, the Church has been living by the Edwardian principle that you can do whatever you want “as long as you don’t do it in the streets and it doesn’t scare the horses.” While this may be appropriate when you’re out dismantling injustice, it is certainly no way to build community in the center of the playground.
Personally, I would like to see the older sexual ethic retained (most sexual acts occur only within a committed relationship), only now including our LGBT brothers and sisters under that umbrella. When our LGBT brothers and sisters can live their lives in the light of the full blessing of the Church, then – and only then – can this older sexual ethic be freed from its former tyranny. This new sexual ethic will hold fast to tradition but be very open and affirming at the same time. However, Episcopalians will still be afraid to talk about sex, because we’re too polite. But when we will talk about it in thirty years, “commitment” and “love” will once again be the centerpiece of the discussion.
What is the defining generational challenge for Millennials?
For “the greatest generation” the challenge was World War II and for the Boomers it was the liberation of the sixties. It seems as if every generation has a centralized struggle that defined them. What is the definitive challenge for Millennials? I’ll be honest, I’ve wondered a lot about this question and for the longest time I’m not sure if we’ve come across it yet. But, perhaps we have.
In my first post I wrote that the watchwords for most Millennials are currently chaos and disillusionment – all stemming from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. I think the importance of this cannot be overstated. We must remember that Millennials have been promised for their whole lives that if they just work hard enough, get into a good college and study hard, we’d have a good job and a great life.
It was my senior year while at Milligan when the economy crashed and I remember turning on the news everyday and hearing words like “Bear Sterns” and “Credit Default Swaps” — wondering the entire time if there would be any place for me after College. And, in many ways for so many of us, there has been nothing. We were promised the world, but by the time we were ready to seize it, it had collapsed under the massive strain of greed from previous generations (it is perhaps worth noting that most of the CEO’s of the nation’s largest banks were all Boomers). Also, we must also not forget that many Millennials are now part of the Boomerang Generation and the disappointment that comes along with moving back home after college.
Our response to all this chaos and disillusionment is returning to tradition. I think future generations will look back and see this is our defining challenge and our defining response. Unless, that is, some unforeseen future event takes its place.
A return to the center: liturgically conservative and socially liberal:
Some of you might recall the scandal arising from election of the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester as Bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan and the subsequent lack of approving votes from the other Dioceses of the Church. A large part of the scandal was that he was also a Buddhist and was known for rewriting the Baptismal Covenant and the Creed from The Book of Common Prayer. The issue for many Episcopalians was not that he had been aided in his faith by Buddhist thought, but that he was rewriting the Prayer Book, getting rid of references to the divinity of Christ. Truly, this was a double-whammy and for those of us who thought he shouldn’t be elected, it was a creedal issue. Frankly, I think as the divide between Boomers and Millennials grows – especially as more Millennials join the Church – events like Forrester’s spurned election will continue to rise.
And I think this is something that Boomers cannot comprehend that someone as liberal as I am would still say that Forrester shouldn’t be made a Bishop. Or that someone as liturgically conservative as I am would also be all about social justice and LGBT equality at the same time. I’ve had several say to me, “How can you be both for a traditional understanding of the Creed and so liberal at the same time?” I think for many Millennials, our commitment to this and other “liberal” issues arises first and foremost out of our commitment to Christ and the Gospel. Our liberality is framed by the creeds and the traditions of the Church.
I think that this is also seen in ad orientem celebrations of the Mass. Many Boomers see this as secretive hyper-clericalism that does not respond well enough to the burning cities of the twentieth century. On the other hand, as evidenced by the resurgence of Millennials at Latin Masses in RC Churches, Millennials see this as a proper act of reverence, where it is not so much that the Priest is turning away from us in secrecy, but turning towards God in an act that goes so against the entertainment-focused culture of our day. I’ve had several Boomers ask me, “How can you do this – be this liberal, yet actually prefer the Priest to have her back to you?!”
I think you can also see this tension in the flash-fire of our day: gay marriage. We are for LGBT equality, therefore we are for Gay Marriage. Marriage, you might recall, is that Sacrament of two people pledging fidelity to each other for the rest of their lives. Frankly, I can’t find much that is “liberal” or “progressive” here when all we want to do is open it to all the baptized. You might do well to recall the baptized, too. You know, those brothers and sisters of yours who are part of the Church and are following after Christ – gay or straight. Again, I don’t see anything too progressive or liberal about wanting to open a Sacrament to all members of Christ’s body, of which He is the head.
This is that conservative/liberal tension that many have a hard time understanding: we’re framing all of our liberal ideas within the bounds of the Church. Many Boomers might say that we should just get rid of marriage all together, so LGBT equality can be assured. Millennials are saying no – these Sacraments and Traditions hold us together! We are not destroying the institutions like the Boomers did – we are returning to them and redefining them. I foresee that the Episcopal Church of the Millennials will retain and reuse several traditional methods, yet keeping our commitment to social justice and, more importantly, to Christ.
We’ll reject you as Bishop because you can’t adequately prove that you are committed to the Faith and – by proxy – our Liturgy, not because you’ve found Buddhist practices to be helpful to you. Expect to see more Solemn High Masses with female Priests and Deacons; more chant being sung by gay Bishops. More marriages being performed with more incense and lace than you ever thought you possibly could (whether those marriages be between two Christians that happen to be gay or two Christians who happen to be straight).
In fact, the mere issues of race, sexuality and gender will seldom be spoken of in the Church of the Millennials, for we understand more perfectly St. Paul’s words in Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (3:28) We understand more perfectly that it is Christ who has brought us together; Christ who heals us and makes us one; and Christ who sends us out to do the work that we have been given to do. This work of building a life in the midst of chaos and disillusionment, of bonding together in the middle of the playground, of being the hands and feet of Christ in this day and age, with its own peculiarities.
The Boomers answered this call in their own way. Now, Millennials are, too. And the mere thought of these possibilities make me look forward to the future with much excitement. Thanks be to God.
Here endeth the series.