April 16, 2008

Let Those With Ears to Hear, Ignore

From Hypersync via Topmost Apple:

There seems to me a compulsion with the "Baby-Boomer" generation (and of course this is a generalization) for continual change. In my dealing with the younger generations, they are frankly sick of it. Of course change is constant in their own lives, but what they seem to be seeking in a world-of- nothing-but-change is a constant — something they can hold on to and be sure of. That's why, I think, traditional forms of church architecture, language, liturgy, hymnology, and the like are so attractive to younger people — often to the chagrin of their elders...

If "radical welcome" is true and not just the desired imposition of yet another ideology, what am I to think when I keep hearing from young people that this generation of leadership is completely unresponsive, will not listen, will not consider what they as "the future of the Church" are truly seeking? An NYU student makes a comment that, "We really do like Rite I!" The rector shakes his head, dumbfounded that this could actually be possible, and says, "I keep hearing this, but I don't understand it and just can’t believe it."

My comment: I am among them, so I do confess the fault, but being aware of it, I work against it: but it seems my generation of Baby Boomers have a tendency not only to seek for novelty, but to ask for input and then ignore it, in any number of circumstances and situations. It isn't just the church — and it goes far to explain the failing businesses and policies of a generation that asks for input and then ignores it. Dear Rector-deaf-to-your-NYU student, you do not need to understand to believe: have faith, or at least honor it in others.

So I say to this, a hearty "Hear, hear."

And to my cohort of booming babies, I say this:

Stop giving mere lip-service to the younger People of God, and give them some ear-service instead.

— Tobias Haller BSG


bls said...

Amen, Amen.

Marshall Scott said...

I certainly agree - although as best I remember when I was in that age group, my peers thought no one in the Church listened to them. I think it is a real issue, but I don't think it's a new issue.

EYouthWNY said...

As a diocesan youth missioner I can echo the thoughts here, especially those of the young people quoted. I once led a prayer service and used the "modern" Lord's prayer with the teens. There was much grousing afterwards because they unanimously preferred the "traditional" version.

Part of our baby boomer (and I am also a boomer) attraction to change is based on our own lives I think. We so desperately wanted a change that we assume that this generation will want one too and we're all to willing to show that we're NOT tied to the old ways. Sadly we've always tended to not give much weight to tradition or history. While we shouldn't be manacled by either they both deserve a certain amount of respect.

In case anyone might be interested I offer some of my own thoughts on how we can better share our faith with our youth:

Anonymous said...

Well said!

It amazes me how many Boomers think that to appeal to "the young people" we ought to abandon the BCP, vestments, Anglican chant, and the like. The congregation Brian McLaren (affectionately known as "the godfather" of the emerging church conversation in the U.S.) used the 1979 BCP for liturgies when he started his non-denominational church, and to this day most of their liturgy comes from there. And I'll never forget when a Southern Baptist church planter who has a skate-punk congregation whose average age is 19 called me to ask where he could get "one of those robe thingies" (meaning an alb), "the other stuff that goes with it" (meaning stole and chasuble) and a thurible. His congregation LIKES these things! And so do I.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the notes. Marshall, you may be on to another truth: that change is indeed desirable, and that the "change" now is away from the guitars and casual liturgy that were change-full for our generation, back to something from a previous generation. Another factor is, I think, a desire for something "ancient" and "changeless" in a very volatile world. We boomers emerged from the Ozzie and Harriet cultural stability of our childhood (whether it really was that or not isn't the issue -- this is a cultural phenomenon, I think) and so sought change; those born into a world with no set boundaries may well crave boundaries. There is a lot of dynamism going on, and my advice is: listen and don't impose ones own preconceptions on the congregation.

bls said...

The problem with the kinds of change that some seem addicted to is not, IMO, that it's change, per se; it's that the stuff being proposed as "creative new kinds of worship" is completely disconnected from anything else.

It's inauthentic and very often trite. One of the benefits of belonging to the church (and it's nice to find a benefit among the many drawbacks!) is that it's the one institution left in the culture that is deeply connected to the ancient human past. And however much we might dislike it, the human past is what it is - and there's nothing more important than looking reality in the face. Christianity is an Incarnational religion in which the facts of history are important; people who ignore the past - even if from what might be good motives - are doomed to repeat it, as they say. Or at least, to glean nothing from it. And I'm afraid we become extremely shallow if we try to live as if nothing came before the present moment.

It really doesn't do to pretend things are other than they are. And you are right that the church also offers, partly as a result of its deep connection with the past, a kind of permanence that is completely lacking in modern life.

Anyway, Christianity - and the culture (in the large sense of the word) that arose from it - is so deep and interesting that it's a tragedy that so much of its past is being ignored today - often, it seems, in favor of avoiding what's pejoratively thought of as "medieval". If we toss out the medieval, we have to get rid of St. Francis of Assisi, and Julian of Norwich, and St. John of the Cross, and etc., also. These people were formed and informed by their own history; why do we think we shouldn't be?

Country Parson said...

The last few weeks I've been involved in local conversations, partly reflected in my blog, about the same subject, although not about youth per se. It seems there are those who have decided that anything that smacks of orthodoxy or tradition, by any definition, is to be avoided - no, not avoided but challenged and defeated on the grounds that it stifles the human freedom to understand God and religion in new and more creative ways. The argument has been that the only reason we believe the way we do is that we have been (coercively?) socialized into it and we must break free. To me it seems like some boomers who complained in their teens that no one was listening to them are still whining in the same voice. First it was don't trust anyone over thirty. Now it's don't trust anyone under fifty.

Malcolm+ said...

I think there are a number of aspects to this. If (to use American parlance) Rite II has been normative in their church experience, then Rite I IS a change.

But the other problem (which we have in common with Rome post Vatican II) is that so often liturgical freedom has become an excuse for liturgical sloppiness.

It is certainly possible to be as deliberate and intentional in our approach to Rite II liturgy as with Rite I liturgy. Indeed, I suspect this is the norm with most people and with most parishes.

But in many places - and in particular with young people - we seem to think "informal" means "sloppy" or "slap-dash." It doesn't.

Anonymous said...

One of the hats I wear is as a chaplain at one of the Royal School of Church Music summer programs. Every summer we get 100 kids between the ages of 10 and 18 (and college students, and older adults) for a week to rehearse Anglican choral music and then sing a 1662 Evensong every evening. On Sunday we have a full choral Mass in the morning, and a festal Evensong in the afternoon - complete with incense. One of the highlights for the adults and high school age kids is the optional Compline sung a capella, following the Sarum use (although not in Middle English!).

These are the same kis who come to the Friday night dance and party to hip-hop and techno and whatever else is on offer that summer. These are the same kids who wear spiked collars and Goth make-up (some of them)...you get the picture. For many of the kids this is the highlight opf their summer!

In confirmation class on Sunday I asked my 14-and 15-year olds what the exterior of our stone English Country Gothic building said about God. One girl , who leans towards living life in the fast lane, said "Old - in a cool way."

So, yes. I think the worst thing we can do is to market a particular style of worship as being age limited. My philosophy is to offer the whole BCP to the congregation, shifting on a seasonl basis, so that over the course of the whole year everyone uses Rite I (both Eucharistic prayers) and Rite II (all four Eucharistic prayers and all 6 Prayers of the people). That way, the whole congregation can feel comfortable worshipping together, whether they find themselves at 8 am or 10 am. And I do have teens who come to the 8 am service where the standard is Rite I.

I reallly think a lot of it has to do with how the celebrant understands what she is doing. If you can pray just as deeply and with the same conviction and sense of the Spirit's presence at any version of the liturgy, it shows! I grew up in a parish that was very slow to embrace the 79 BCP (or any of the trial liturgies), so until I went to college, my worship experience was the 1928 BCP. I know that formed me in some very deep ways, and it certainly didn't repel me from God or Church.


Derek the Ænglican said...

We're revolting against ur parents' church just the same way you all did. The pendulum is swinging back to try and find a happy medium.

And yet there's something else going on to... It may be the "emerging" thing or it may be something else but there's a major shift going on. I see many my age looking for something more traditional, more authentic, more grounded than what we currently see around us.

G said...

Br Tobias, I offer in all humility my own manifesto on the subject.


Anonymous said...

How does one reconcile what is said here about the desire for traditional liturgy and the fact that in North America at least liturgical churches as a group have declined in favor of megachurches and less formal worship styles, praise bands, etc.?

Are we talking about a liturgical niche market?

I would dearly like to see some quantitative as opposed to anecdotal data on these trends.

Anonymous said...

As one of the (very) few 20 somethings in an Episcopal parish, and a traditionalist, to boot... I was treated as a somewhat amusing pet. Fun to have around, but you've got to put me in the kennel when the neighbors come over. I think the middle aged congregation is ok with me, but hopes that I don't invite any friends.


Bob G+ said...

I'm in the running for a new ministry position and they asked me about my liturgical style. I entered the Episcopal Church in a very large, formal, Broad-Low, Rite II church and now I am in a "non-fussy, Rite I, Anglo-Catholic" parish. I told the committee that I can celebrate in just about any style as long as the mass is done with dignity and reverence. I have my biases, but that are just that - biases.

I have to agree with derek the anglican - something else is going on that is deeper than just the normal generational rebellion against their parent's stuff.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, my parish's evening service has a nice group of 20 and 30 somethings (30 or so out of a hundred). We use the 1982 hymnbook set to piano, a bass guitar and a wind instrument and use rite II, prayer A or B. If we tried to do anything different, like contemporary music those young folks would go elsewhere.

As a young person myself (33), sometimes I wonder if people try to be "modern" for the sake of patting themselves on the back.

bls said...

I don't really see how it matters whether this is a "niche market" or a grand mass movement. The point is, that there are numbers of people who wish to worship using the traditional forms - and we wonder why there should be such a difficult time getting anybody in the Church to listen.

If people prefer Praise Music, more power to 'em. Others prefer something else.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks to all for the comments. I am about due to rush off to a meeting, but want to note three things in relation to the MegaChurch phenomenon.

1. These churches have recently begun to show signs of decline, as the passion for novelty has begun to wear off.

2. Their era of success may well relate to the Walmart syndrome (one stop shopping) as to their liturgical style. Day care and a full gym can be attractive components of the whole package, and people might even "put up with" the liturgy for the other benefits. For accurate comparison I think one would need to see a kind of AngloCatholic MegaChurch providing all those other resources. Personally, I think it would be a huge success.

3. At the same time Niche markets are real markets.

Anonymous said...

I remember some years ago hearing one of the younger members of our congregation say that the Parish's biggest problem with "reaching out to young people" was convincing baby-boomers that they no longer counted as "young people" (so, their rambling on about what they use to like in college was pretty much irrelevant). I thought he was onto something.

bls said...

Peter Sellick, an Australian I know very little about, wrote here that:

"Shallow church culture and worship does damage to the faith because it is easily dealt with and disposed of. It has the shelf life of a popular song. This is one reason why the mega-churches have such a high throughput, it does not take long to plumb the depths because there are no depths. Once you have been told that Jesus loves you and that you should believe in him in order to be saved, that is pretty much the end of it. Boredom is bound to set in and disillusionment follows that forecloses any further involvement in the Church."

And while it is only anecdotal at this moment, it's clear that there is a movement of some size towards more traditional forms. The "New Liturgical Movement" (represented at least in part by the blog of the same name) is called "the reform of the reform" of the Catholic church. The Pope leans this way, too, and that fact always has some influence.

In addition, there is a clear renewal of interest in monastic practices - the book "St. Benedict's Toolbox," written by an Episcopal priest and widely read, is an example of this. In the Methodist Church of my childhood, they are now celebrating Ash Wednesday, (including imposition of ashes, as well as Holy Week, including Good Friday services. Unheard-of, 40 years ago.

There is clearly something going on.

Fr Andrew Petiprin said...

I think things like gender-inclusive language fall into this same category. I don't know too many young people (myself included - 28) who are bothered about it in the least. In fact, I think a lot of younger people (not all) think it's inauthentic and unecessary.

Phil said...

I'm one of very few people under thirty in my parish, but I've made a number of friends my age who attend other denominations.

I'll agree that we younger folks prefer traditional, Anglo-Catholic leaning liturgies, though I think this thread may be riding a little too hard on the Baby-Boomers over the issue.

There is a bigger issue at hand for many younger church goers. We crave authenticity. Many of us have a very difficult time reconciling what we read in the Bible with how we live, and so there has been a great big renewal of interest in movements modeled after the Catholic Worker. The New Monasticism movement is growing like wildfire, and the Catholic Worker is seeing an influx of youth that it has not had probably since the sixties.

It's quite nice when churches use smells and bells in liturgy- when we young people have really good opportunities for contemplation. But contemplation is useless and becomes stifling if it doesn't breed action.

If churches want to draw young adults, they should start putting a whole lot more emphasis on doing social change. Host homeless shelters, resist war, build cooperative businesses, grow healthy food to give to the hungry, etc. Take the prophets really, deadly seriously. The transformation will draw young people in droves.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I intend to spend a little time this afternoon working (and praying) on an icon of St James of Jerusalem -- but want to take a moment to second what Phil observes here, as it is well in keeping with the sentiments of the Epistle of James. Orthodoxy is useless if it doesn't lead to orthopraxy; and our worship of God is empty (however beautiful) if it doesn't impel us and nourish us for service to Christ's suffering body in the world.

This really was the classical impulse of the Anglo-Catholic movement in the hands of such as Pusey --- not simply solemn worship, but serious mission and ministry as well. There is an untapped vein of the Spirit waiting to be opened: youth today are rebelling as much against the self-satisfaction of the Boomers as the acquisitive success orientation of their children. God willing, the church is ready to enter a new age of service and worship and mission and ministry. Christ is honored in all of these, but most especially in the ministry to the living icons who populate our cities' streets, and labor in our fields.

Anonymous said...

Anecdotal evidence...

The entire New Testament is anecdotal evidence.

We've built a Church on it.

Fr Andrew Petiprin said...

As Frank Weston put it:
"But I say to you, and I say it to you with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I think Weston must have been thinking of an admirable quote from John Chrysostom. I don't have it at hand, but it runs something like: "Do not adore Christ present on the altar only to pass Him by freezing and starving on the street."

I think we are on to another topic, but it really is more important, isn't it?

bls said...

It is more important; there's no way to justify empty ritual.

But I think it's true, too, that spiritual nourishment is very important, or else there's no way to face the cruelties and horrors of the world with any sort of fortitude and endurance (something that's absolutely required, I think). And the shallow and inauthentic is not nourishing; it obscures the clear view of Christ himself - the crucified God - not even to talk about Christ in the slum.

Anyway, there's no need for it! As others have pointed out, Anglo-Catholics, and others, have already demonstrated the power of the integration of these two things.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Perhaps, bls, it might then be said:

Those who are spiritually starved will not be able to feed the physically hungry.

Malcolm+ said...

"Those who are spiritually starved will not be able to feed the physically hungry."

In part, perhaps, because those who are feeding the physically hungry will find that their spiritual starvation begins to be alleviated.