The Episcopal Cafe linked to this article two days ago with the following headline”Where have all the Young People Gone?”
The article itself is fine. The headline is troubling.
It’s a popular question to ask, nowadays, by very well-meaning people, who have very well-founded concerns that the current incarnation of the church lacks a certain diversity of ages. This is true. The current incarnation is a bit lopsided when it comes to life-experience. The average Episcopalian is somewhere around the age of 58. Everyone, by now, has seen the statistics about our drop in membership, and the rise in spirituality over religious affiliation. So the idea that ‘kids these days’ are, statistically speaking, more likely to be drinking coffee than acolyting, on Sunday morning is not far-fetched.
But saying, “Where have all the Young People Gone?” does not help the situation.
Because that questions assumes that All Young People Have, in fact, Gone.
Not just most Young People, but ALL the Young People. ALL OF THEM. EVERYWHERE.
WE HAVE LOST ALL THE YOUNG PEOPLE!!
Like socks in the dryer, or some vast conspiracy of youth to abandon the Fair Church Episcopal.
This is, I realize, a hyperbolic assumption, but it’s also damaging. Because, as a certified Young Person, how can I begin to speak to my beloved Church about the ways in which we can make the church more welcoming to my fellow Young People, if it seems to have trouble recognizing that I’m still here? Or that my perspective might be important on this issue?
Dear Church, there are a few Young People here, you know. We attend your services, we sit in the back, occasionally in the front if we’re bold. Sometimes, we sit there quietly, and give up after a few Sundays, and sometimes, we get feisty and get ourselves elected to positions of leadership. Sometimes, we even get ourselves ordained.
So, look. This is a conversation we desperately need to have, because this is an issue that is real. But the only way this will work out is if we have it with each other, not around each other. You’re concerned about the young people? Talk to the Actual Young People. Ask us what we need. Ask us what would help make the church more welcoming.
This is a trick we’ve all had to learn time and again, each time we wanted to open the doors a little wider, learn how to be a little more welcoming. How do we talk to someone, and not just about them-as-a-population? We’re going to have to learn that trick again.
So, please. Ask us about being young people in this church. We will tell you. Then we can work on it together.
Because God’s Kingdom has no dryer socks.