Hallo again to all.
This week a young person, near and dear to us, a cradle Anglican, longtime acolyte, and accomplished choir soprano, turned 16 years old. The age of 16 has been a mark of adulthood for centuries. In our time and place, the important milestone is not confirmation, wedding, or going off to war, but getting a driving licence.
Her parents raised her in the church; it has been rare for her to miss a Sunday service, a youth-group event, or a church picnic. Her rector not only knows her name (Elizabeth), he knows the name of her cat (Oreo), and her favourite musical group (Counting Crows).
The next day we began to prepare this week's AO, perusing the usual collection of news and arguments about 'the future of the church'. [Sfx: Hand-wringing] We know, of course, that Elizabeth, her friends in the parish, and her teenaged peers round the world are the future of the church — if only they would be members of it.
Those of us with grey hair and weathered skin often act as though we believe that synods, conventions, canon laws, or primates are in some way related to the future of the church. At the last several ECUSA General Conventions, huge outcries have erupted about the small number of people under 30 who participated. No doubt the same is true of conventions and synods elsewhere. All the apparatus of governance is managed by parents and grandparents, with a cosmetic and powerless fuss made over the children.
Whilst we fuss, children of every generation decide for themselves whether the church they were raised in is to be put on the shelf beside the glove stretchers and oil lamps or kept close and treasured. Sometimes they stay, sometimes they go and return, and sometimes they don't. Most parents seem to love their children enough not to disown them if they choose, as young adults, to ignore their cradle church.
One of the core concepts that matters to Elizabeth and her friends was raised last week by Christopher Howse in his 'Sacred mysteries' column in The Telegraph: Taboo and morality are not the same thing. Taboo comes from its surrounding culture, and many people, especially those who make it their business to advertise their perceptions of others' morality, confuse the two. If you've spent any time at all round the raising of children (or if you have done it), you know that children listen to some of what you tell them, but not all of it; they pay more attention to what you do than to what you say; and that unless you raise them in a cave, the surrounding culture will cause their values to differ from yours.
Elizabeth has just been through the rite of passage that is most important to children in her culture: the driving licence. Some future day, will she place any value on some rite of passage in her church, such as a wedding? Will she attend church as an adult? The answers may depend more on us than on her. If we leave our children a rigid, lifeless, imperial church, they will either ignore it or fashion their own church. If our children's children's church is to look anything like ours — or anything like our parents' church — oughtn't we meet them halfway?
See you next week.
Last updated: 17 November 2002