Youth Myths

I can remember a revealing event at a parish close to New York University that is involved in outreach to NYU students. I did a summer internship at Church of the Ascension and was sitting with the rector, a great guy, one afternoon. The rector made an observation after a student made this comment, “We like Rite I language.” The rector said, “They actually like that stuff. I just don’t get it.”
I don’t see any of this as negative, but as a needed corrective in the excesses of the last generation (that still holds the reigns of power in the Church). There is a desire to get to that which has survived centuries and not that which is just trendy (and trendy for the past 30 years).
Here are some comments by “young people”:

The Topmost Apple
: The Last Straw (a self-described rant). Here is a paragraph:

And could the liberal “liturgists” who are at present overrunning the Episcopal Church take a seat in the back for awhile, please? Could they maybe say Evening Prayer silently (it’s in the front of the book), or maybe read a little theology or something and report back to us in, say, 20 years or so? And could they possibly say something – oh, I don’t know – interesting at that point, about – let me just get crazy here – faith, or something? Endlessly harping on “liturgy,” it seems clear, has become the latest way to avoid having to deal with reality and with the real issues. In the meantime, you can hardly find a parish anywhere at which the Daily Office is prayed on a regular basis – including at so-called “orthodox” parishes. And could we really at some point stop the dumbing-down of everything? Here’s an example: several of these “liberal” oldsters seemed genuinely offended by the fact that there are a number of inscriptions of Latin phrases in various locations in the nave and sanctuary – Latin being an old and very dead (and therefore obviously useless if not downright oppressive) language. (One of these inscriptions I love in particular is on the pulpit: “Et lux in tenebris lucet.”) Typically, one of the 30-somethings mentioned the inscriptions and found them “mysterious – but in a good way, like something I might find out about someday.” Gosh. Imagine that. While the “liberals” disgustedly plot and scheme to tear down this inscription and all the others (and anything else they decide they don’t like), the yoof – whom we desperately need to reach! – actually seem to find them interesting and appealing. Gee.

And another comment from Snow and Roses. Heres a few paragraphs:

One of my biggest pet peeves has turned into rather a joke, unfortunately one that seems to happen over and over again. There I will be, sitting on a worship committee, or in a planning meeting, or a Christian Ed group. I will often be the only person under 40 in the room. Invariably the topic will turn to attracting young people, or making the service more “accessible” for 30 somethings.
What this means to all those well meaning, but ultimately condescending, brothers and sisters is replacing the hymnal with Christian “pop,” chucking the organ for canned stuff, and getting rid of any hint of liturgy. After all, folks my age are too hip for that shit. Right? Wrong. And here is the second frustration I share with so many other young Anglicans. No one will believe us when we tell them that we like or even love the liturgy. That we enjoy all those stuffy old hymns (that they aren’t stuffy at all!) That we would really honestly like a bit of incense now and then, and sanctus bells would just be lovely, and could we please not do away with all the lovely hangings and go to those horrible polyester “modern art” things?
We Anglicans have a problem, and its not just Episcopalians which is why I’ll stick with the broader moniker. We’re embarrassed by ourselves. At some point we got it into our heads that our liturgy and tradition are something to be ashamed of. That they are “out of touch,” and not attractive. I have some theories as to why this is. The first and most obvious being our country’s strong protestant leanings that look with a jaundiced eye on anything that smacks of “Rome.” Another is plain self-loathing. We simply don’t love ourselves, not truly and authentically. But I think the most authentic is this: it is easier to try to find superficial things to change than to address the real issues that keep 30 somethings out of the church.
Because you know what, the folks who don’t want liturgy have lots and lots of other options. But there are many of us “young people” who long deep in our souls for the unassailable mystery of God to which all that ancient liturgy points. We’ve had hundreds of years to get it right. To live and grow with it, and we love that. Our lives are fractured, fast paced, and often anchor-less; the deep ancient liturgy and traditions of the church offer us a contrast of stability. (I know I can walk into any Episcopal church in the country and find a service and music I know by heart, and in my life I need that assurance.) We want to be a tied to the past, we want to be tied through tradition to generations who came before us.
But we’re smart, and we can smell a sham a mile away. We’ve learned to be cynical, careful, and judging. We look for authenticity and depth. And there, dear ones, is where the church falls down: around all those who come because it was expected when they were growing up, those who come out of habit, and those who come out of fear. We walk into a church and we can smell those things, and nothing will keep us in such a place.

The reality is, the “older folks” are perplexed and running scared because their efforts to remake the church in their image is being repudiated by the “younger folks,” and those “older folks” just don’t get it.