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Another example of the sea change...

I've been saying for the last 10 years or so that there is a generational sea change being realized in North America, particularly in the U.S. To be honest, I'm less familiar with what is going on in Canada, but I suspect something similar.

I've said over and over again that the tail end of Generation X, Gen Y, and whatever is next, are of a different temperament when it comes to what resonates with them within the whole Christian melee and spirituality more generally. The Social Gospel of liberal, mainline Protestantism is dead (not to suggest working with the poor is dead, however!), the Baby-Boomer Seeker church experience has run its course, the liberal "god is dead" or perhaps "Process" theological perspectives have shown themselves to be not very satisfying to most people. The younger generations, so demographers and generationalists suggest, seek after something more solid and ancient (read, not trendy), something that restores a sense of mystery, and something that is respectful and none-condescending - unlike much of what passes for "modern" church.

I've said before that I hear more and more from younger people that they prefer the language of Rite I (Elizabethan English), they like the more formal liturgies, that they find resonances with contemplative and monastic-like spiritual experiences.

Now, I know that what I hear does not represent all young people and there are those who want absolutely nothing to do with High Church liturgy, old sounding English, or contemplative quiet. That's fine and good, but on the whole, there is a difference between our parents’ generation and the younger generations. I find that older people in the Church (the 1928 Prayer Book generation) and the young seem to have much more in common then the big group in the middle that now controls the Church. Funny, how that works. But, it is a good thing that within The Episcopal Church, and Anglicanism at least as it has been traditionally practiced, there is an allowance for the flourishing of different forms to meet the differing needs of various peoples.

I've also found that young people tend to want to be challenged to think and seek, but not told what to think or do by "authorities." They respect the authorities generally, but want them to help them seek and find rather than to indoctrinate them. No easy believe-ism for these folks!

Groups that do challenge, that take seriously the young people's wants and desires and NEEDS, that provide a way to the faith that shows seriousness and respect, are growing. Those that pander to political and social whims are not. I believe we will shortly witness a migration out of the neo-conservative political and social "Culture War" churches.

So, I found it interesting today when I took two young seminarians to lunch. One is 23 (or 22, I don't remember) and will probably be our seminarian this fall. The other is a young married guy. A lot of our conversation revolved around the Church, the young, what is happening, and what the future may hold. I listened, mostly (at least I think I listened, mostly).

These are smart guys. They go to General. They talked about their class and the attitudes and desires of their classmates. They even talked about an obvious difference between themselves and the "1960's hold-overs" that reign right now in the Church. "If the church can survive past the baby-boomer generation, there might be hope," from a rector friend of theirs who is a baby-boomer but recognizes both the good his generation has enabled and the baby they threw out with the bathwater.

I look at what is happening among the Emergent Church crowd (See the Episcopal/Lutheran Church of the Apostles in Seattle, Washington). Anyone who does not recognize the sea change either doesn't want to acknowledge what is happening or is truly blind. Again, not all are going to like High Church liturgy, etc., but there is a fundamental change nevertheless.

These two guys said there is even a semi-secret group at General that is regularly saying the Rosary. The Oxford Tradition of General is not dead, despite the 1960's "reformers" who want it to be so. How frustrating it must been for these folks whose life work has been to remake the Church into something else (what, I don't know), only to see young people raising the hands in front of them saying, "NO!" The "reformers" are now "The Man," and they are experiencing the rebellion of the youngsters and they don't know what to do with it (after all, aren't they the ones who are supposed to cast down tradition and authority and institutions?). Their work for naught, perhaps. Who knows...

One guy talked about his wife at Yale. An Episcopal Church in Newhaven has a regular chanted, candlelit Compline and the sanctuary is packed with young people. The rector doesn't know what to do - totally surprised by the result. I'm not.

Today, in the New York Times, an article entitled "Monks Who Play Punk," about a relatively new Roman Catholic monastic order in the Bronx.

"Upstairs, a 100 or more young people lingered in the quiet, candle-lighted sanctuary after an hour of prayer and song in front of the Eucharist. Brother Columba Jordan strummed his guitar and sang in a soft voice.... Two friars with heads bowed sat on either side of the alter, listening to the confessions of men and women waiting patiently in line."
This is New York City, folks. I see this kind of thing all over the place! And, then, there is also Revolution Church, which gets at the same thing in a very different way.
"The monthly holy hour of prayer and song and ensuing music festival are part of an event called Catholic Underground..." [By the way, some of the monks have a Funk and Punk band, complete with long beards and gray, hooded habits.] "...the creation of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a religious order founded two decades ago this year in the Melrose section of the Bronx. Members own no personal possessions and beg even for their food. Nevertheless, the order's 10 friars are bursting with new recruits at a moment when many Roman Catholic religious orders are struggling simply to maintain their current numbers."

"Yet despite the simplicity of the order's lifestyle, the Fr4iars of the Renewal see their message as one othat has a powerful appeal to young people in the 21st century.

'We don't advertise, we don't promise you glow-in-the-dark Frisbees, none of that," said the Rev. Bernard Murphy, the order's head. 'Young people are idealistic, and so we live in a community that lives a high ideal.'"

"'The millennial generation is a spiritual generation,' said Brother Paul Bednarczyk, of the vocation conference. 'I think they are searching for meaning in their life, and I think they are looking to do something that is going to have an impact on the world.'"

In the article, as it ends, the are a couple comments made by people who the order ministers to. We read comments like, "When you're running on an empty tank, they're pretty much there to fill up the tank;" or this from a women who lost hear let when she had an encounter with a fire truck, "Ever since I starting coming here, I feel better about myself. I want to live again. Everything I eat here is spiritual."

Interesting, ah?

I'm afraid a good many people in The Episcopal Church (and within many churches!) still don't get it. Not only do they not get it, they actively try to keep their heads in the sand. As a seminary friend of mine used to say, "I can't wait until this generation of leaders in the Church retires. Then maybe we can get back to being the Church." I understand the point and count-point between all generations. There is always idealism among the young and a reaction to their parent's generation. This is nothing new. Yet, I still say there is as much of a profound change in this generation and the Boomers as we saw between the War II generation and the Boomers. We shall see what happens.

NOTE: Since this Web space is primarily a place for me to dump thoughts and to keep track of things, I'm not being particular about grammar and spelling. I realize this will effect how some people will respond to me and to my thoughts. Feel free to point out mistakes! If this drives you nuts, sorry.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 22, 2007 5:59 PM.

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