The church grieves as it faces a new generation of people less inclined even to notice that it exists. The church is a bit like a dowager countess – vaguely aware that at one time she was a great, rich and impressive figure but weighed down under the reality of a new humility brought on by old age and a greatly reduced pension. She is forced into a kind of humility. She must chose between the Victorian glory in which she pretends to exist is ongoing and embracing the new reality that the church is entering into a time of molting and testing. To be authentic one must summon all one’s courage.
Perhaps there was a time in which the church was deeply noticed by the people around her. Certainly in ancient times like the dark ages and the middle ages the church was impressive and provided some logistical and social protection – even advancement. And it is also true that the birth of the Episcopal Church in America was in large part church as a social-climbing tool. But today, the humility into which we are now stepping will, I think be good for us. It will force us into a reality check.
Young people are longing for spirituality and authentic ways in which to express that spirituality. And the church loves to bristle at the embrace of spirituality without the embrace of religious devotion. Our membership growth committee at the cathedral struggles with this issue on a daily basis. What do we do when Generation X demands the authenticity of Jesus’ mission to the poor and the humility of a church which has finally accepted its disgraceful history of manipulation, cruelty, arrogance and profligacy? (For more on this issue of ecclesial authenticity go to a recent simulcast on ecclesial courage by Charles LaFond at
Watching this man walk by this sculpture of Jesus, I was reminded that the images of our ancestors may not be the images which will attract young people too our church. And I agree with Robert that what we have already – beauty, mystery, silence, holy awe, gorgeous music – these are still deeply attractive to young seekers. We have everything we need to survive this generational change. We simply need to prune away any remaining ecclesial arrogance, misuse of funds and silly distractions from serving the poor. We need to do what we do well – beautiful liturgy without fussiness, beautiful pastoral care without preference to the rich, beautiful hospitality without manipulation. Liz’s ordination this weekend is the way forward. As we ordain and send out missionaries to the poor and marginalized whose heart is humble and whose psyche authentic, we will be ready for these new generations without abandoning older generations. Our Saint John’s Day celebrations this year (September 7) will be a good example: a great, huge party for the neighborhood with amazing, simple food, gut-busting laughter, warm hugs and doors open for tours.