I recently read an essay by Elizabeth Drescher on the “rd Magazine” website entitled “Turn Off, Slow Down, Drop In: The Digital Generation Reinvents the Sabbath“
I love this paragraph:
At the other end of the spectrum, fantasies that the application of new
technologies to traditional practices will, in themselves, enrich life
in general and spirituality in particular are no less misguided. Take a recent blog post on the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, which shared with italicized surprise the utterly unremarkable finding that “use of visual projection equipment in worship is not
related to church growth.” No kidding? Survey says: a dull video or
lame music is just dull as a preacher blah-blah-blah-ing on in person
with no relational interest in or connection to the people to whom they
are blab-casting. So, too, an engaging, interactive minister who
genuinely connects to people and encourages their connection to one
another is going to be compelling face-to-face and in
technologically-enabled engagements (see, for example, @texasbishop, @MeredithGould, @jaweedkaleem). [emphasis mine]
For some reason, and this gets to some of the other stuff in the article and in the life of the Church in general (particularly the Mainline denominations and more particularly the Episcopal Church, of which I am a priest), we think we must manage God. After all, if we don’t manage God everything will just fall apart and we will devolve into nothingness. (Yeah, and how is that going for us?)
The Episcopal Church is in crisis because we are a dying institution (has little to do with the gay-issue or the conservatives leaving the Church – although it has a whole lot to do with it… irony). So many people are rushing to do triage and to save this venerable national treasure, but the ways and means they are trying to save it are little more than the same old things that have been going on for the last 40 years that have gotten us into the mess to begin with. They dress up these tired old ways and means in hipster clothing or Emergent garb thinking that things like PowerPoint presentations, bad rock-ish music, hip-cool candles and flashy lights, casting off vestments, or better yet taking out pews, sidelining the Prayer Book, explaining away Scripture, or outlawing Rite I language will magically make the Church all rad (yes, I know) so that streams of young people will suddenly fill the empty spaces. What they end up doing is just another form of blab-casting.
What we so often forget is that Jesus is the one that builds the Church, and if we so manage affairs of the Church according to trendy culture dictates that Jesus is nicely tucked away out of site, well, we have already failed.
There are streams of young people filling churches. Just not our churches. Around where I live (Brooklyn, NY), within an 1/2-hour walk I can take you to at least 5 churches that are in the hundreds of members each and are made up almost exclusively with those under, say, 32 years of age. They beg for people over 40 to come to their churches. St. Paul’s, where I serve, has a very close relationship with a few of these churches. You know what they are doing in their services? Old Hymns song out of hymnals. Traditional liturgies (they are rediscovering the significance of liturgy). We use Rite I at St. Paul’s for our principle liturgy (Rite II other times – we aren’t protesting anything), but when we talk about changing to Rite II, it is the 20-somethings who have been coming in greater numbers over the last 5 years who protest the loudest.
This is why my work in the Imago Dei Society/Initiative isn’t focused on being trendy, but on understanding emerging generations and emerging culture to find out not how to become like them, but to discover how to translate the Faith to them in ways they can understand, form them into consequential Christians, and learn how to receive, living into and pass on the enduring Tradition in its Anglican form. This doesn’t play too well when those attempting triage are bent on re-hashing the latest hip-cool thing the culture throws at us (even when all the evidence shows that what younger people are looking for is something substantially different from all that hype and manipulation).