Monday, August 12, 2013

What the Cathedral Student Ministry Can Teach "Popcorn Millennial's"

"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Matthew 18: 20

I have heard it said that "everyone" in the church thinks Youth and Young Adult Ministry is important, but that "no one" wants to do it. 

With that said: I know precisely why "no one" in the church wants to do Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

Would I be putting my foot in my mouth if I said that I agreed with the reason? 

Here goes nothing...

"No one" in the church wants to do Youth and Young Adult Ministry...because it's HARD! Yes, it's hard because youth and young adults--particularly young adults--can be fickle, lazy, disinterested, and have a propensity to want everything and nothing at the same time. I would know :-( . But, more than that, it's hard because youth and young adults challenge pastors to be creative, to be genuine, to be a friend, AND to be a leader. And that balance--friend and leader--is no small order. It is, indeed, a sacred task. 

This past saturday, at the Deanery, Rev. Claire scheduled a "Welcome Social" for me. The students from the Cathedral Student Ministry baked muffins, brownies and cupcakes, and we played "30 Seconds"--the board game version of "Taboo." Also, last week and part of this week, I made the effort to schedule 1-to-1's with the Cathedral Student Ministry Core Team. Both of these things, particularly the 1-to-1's, were designed to facilitate "relational deepening" with the students, to meet them beyond the context of formal worship, to learn of their expectations of me, and to share my expectations with them. 

Before arriving to Grahamstown I wrestled with the question of how I was supposed to, as a young adult, minister to the needs of other young adults. Perhaps for some people that statement begs the question. Those people would say that I am suited to minister to young adults precisely because I AM a young adult. However, it is by my own calculation that the latter assertion is actually the question begging assertion. It does not necessarily follow that I can properly minister to the needs of young adults because I am a young adult. 

I often find myself defending the Christian tradition to Millennial's who have been deeply scarred by the condemnatory character of conservative Christian denominations. Somehow, in the states, the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist's have come to represent what it means to be Christian, and have decidedly owned the conversation about what are Christian values. College students who enjoy alcohol, sex, drugs, and the occasional party see no place for themselves in that conversation. For some reason, the smartest people I know have downed the "pious Christian" kool-aid, and can't seem to wrap their minds around the idea that they can both enjoy their young adult years and deepen their relationship with God, that ordinary men with their own demons *cough* Paul the Apostle *cough* were trying their best to express the inexpressible, trying to convince both themselves and others of the mercy, grace and love of God--speaking out their own need for self-control. 

So, young adults run away from the tradition, or they avoid the tradition, turning away from the possibility of feeling guilt or shame for wanting to live freely. And indeed, they shouldn't be left to feel small for wanting to live their life the way they choose and still love their God; but, it seems to me that one is to suffer harsher consequences living outside of community than they would facing the tension that will inherently exist in ANY community one chooses to join.

Sometimes I struggle to minister to the young adult that has made up his or her mind about the institution of religion. I want to say, "just trust me," but I know that it requires something much more substantial than that. It requires journeying with them, being a living witness to the fierce diversity of and transformative power that exists in God's church. 

Pastors and priests have conceived of ways of drawing young adults back to the church. And the answer has, so often, been to take service out of the cathedral and into the arena or pavilion, to remove the organ and replace it with a band, and to take off the suits and slip on the shorts. And I struggle with this. It strikes me as an unbalanced approach. It caters to a generation and to a time in one's maturation, when trends and desires change faster than we can even keep up with. Millennial's are the inheritors of a consumerist culture whose habits have become requirements for fulfillment. The regularity with which we change phones, or styles is certainly not the same pace of change and transformation that occurs in the spiritual life. In fact, the pace of our consumer culture stands in direct opposition to the rate of change in the spiritual life. Spiritual transformation is a process that is happening over time; a process we sometimes do not realize is happening until it has happened. Spiritual transformation requires that we take stock of our lives carefully, and intimately; paying attention to from whence we have come, who we are, where we are, where we want to go, who we want to become isn't going to be satisfied by just changing the way a space looks. It might be a start, but I don't think that it is the end all and be all. And I think that a worship space that caters to what I call "instant spirit" is a volatile space, a false witness, ironically unbending in its effort to provide theological and spiritual flexibility. I believe that a space that is prime for spiritual transformation is a space that provides the opportunity for young people to be relaxed and safe; and, I think that it should be a space rooted in a story, rooted in a history of having been prayed in and over, and deeply connected to a past that will beckon forward those who have walked our paths before. And the young adult minister is one that has to be comfortable both recognizing the level of discomfort that many Millennial's have with institutional religion, and challenging them to re-engage the spiritual conversation, to seek out the community that is right for them, and to trust that God is working on those that use the Gospel to condemn as much as God is working on them. It is about balancing friendship and leadership--in one word it might be called, "empowerment."

The Cathedral Student Ministry at St. Michael and St. George seeks this sort of balance. A congregation of 40-70 students, each Sunday, enjoy a space where both progressive Christian's and conservative Christian's can be filled and challenged by the Gospel. It is a space where young adults lead worship and liturgy, yet seek guidance, the theological knowledge of elders, and the love of God. It is a space where the past and the present come into intimate conversation with one another. I believe that the tension we experience when past and present come into contact is the very tension that binds life together. It is a still space, and it is a vibrant space. It is an empty space, and it is a full space. I'd love to hear a John Mayer Mass or a Lauryn Hill Mass call upon the Spirit in that place. But, I think that that is the sort of balance that must be struck if Millennial's are to both return to the church, and experience transformation and healing.  Existing in a space where we can safely be on opposite ends of the spectrum puts us in relationship with others we might be prone to judge rather than love. It teaches us how to engage the unique character of others, and it challenges us to sink deeply into prayer about our own convictions. And I think that the tension of old and new safely facilitates a space where liberal and conservative can bring their unique ideas to God. And it is in that bringing forth that a deep similarity and familiarity is initiated.

Millennial's want ministers that empower them to reimagine their worship space, yet help guide them in making that space a meaningful space, a space that has some structure, that links them to the past, and that feels like a sense.

We need the old, we need the tradition to both ground us and invite us into a relationship with others from generations past--this helps us to realize that we are not alone in our journey to know a God that speaks from our depths. And we need the new to keep the Word fresh, familiar, and expressed in a language that we understand. There is tension, but there is harmony. There is, therefore, the very essence of God. 

I am excited about working with this group of young adults that have shown me how culture can converge, how we can stand firmly rooted in tradition while singing God's praises with a new song!

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