This week was Week Two of “What if Canterbury Got to Have Its Service in a Real, Live Church?” Experiment. Each week, this has gotten to be a smoother process by an order of magnitude. (Last week, in a process too long to go into, I discovered that three of my four on-hand Canterburians did not have driver’s licenses. Kids! All wild and crazy and lacking the ability to drive legally.)
But it never fails to amaze me how large the gap is between what the Average Congregational Episcopalian seem to expect a “college service” to look like, and what the Canterburians then deliver. From the initial conversations I had with these A.C.Es prior to the start of the 5:30pm services, I gather that many expected experimental liturgy! Wild rock music! Possibly some extemporaneous praying! But definitely drums of some kind.
Instead, the students would like a greater reliance on the Hymnal 1982, and the authorized hymnals. (Point of reference: this group doesn’t like singing Spanish hymns in translation.) They have a strict list of Rules For Music, from which I am forbidden from straying from (i.e. No folk Christian music published between the years of 1960-1998, except as approved on a case-by-case basis. Nothing that would suggest that Jesus might be anyone’s boyfriend; nothing that mandates hand gestures, but if spontaneous movement arises, that is acceptable, (aka the Macarena Paradox) etc.) They would greatly like a thurible (cheap ones can be ordered online from Mexico!) And I’m fairly certain that at some point, I’m going to end up with a handmade t-shirt that says “Rubrics are binding!” on it. And I shall wear it with pride and glee.
And all of the above is the hardest pitch I ever make in larger church gatherings. No one believes me. The conventional wisdom of “Young people don’t like traditional music/liturgy.” just won’t budge.
…and there is some truth in that. Or, more properly, some young people don’t like some liturgy done in some ways. You can no more generalize about an entire couple of generations than you can about, say, all women. Or all men. At all time, everywhere. Unless you’re a late 1990’s comedian. (In which case, my guess is your calling is not to be a leader in the church.)
Really, they like church to be church. And not church pretending to be anything else. That is what they’ve signed up for. (believe it or not.) Because there are a ton of places to go and hear folky music, or rock music. Or sit in an amphitheater and feel better about yourself.
There aren’t a whole lot of places to go and have a transcendent experience of the divine come near, connect with a tradition generations-upon-generations older than you, and be challenged to live a better life in community with those around you–some you like a lot, and some you would really ignore til the day you died.
Starbucks doesn’t quite cut it.
And remarkably, that’s what these students have signed up for, of their own free will, and cheerfully, too. They’re not there because of a societal expectation that going to church is what makes you a good person, or keeps you in tight with the ‘right’ crowd. Nope. They’re there because they want to be. Because they find something there that they are passionate about.
It’s the rest of us, maybe, who get freaked out by that.