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Hallo again to all.

Although it was far more Lenten than Easter reading, last week in New This Week was a story in The (London) Times, headed Church seeks spirituality of youth... and doesn't like what it finds. Guitar mass.Summarising the results of an extensive report, Making Sense of Generation Y, Ruth Gledhill wrote: 'If they think about church at all, the images young people come up with are "cardigans", "sandals and socks", "corrupt", "traditionalist" and “stagnant"'. One 19-year-old said: 'I don’t believe in God and I think, to a certain extent, religions are a waste of time. I don’t like being told how to live by a set of religious rules. I just want to be happy'.

Every province of the Anglican Communion will differ in how well it attracts and retains young people, but it's obvious that first-world countries are losing the battle. Statistics drawn from the Anglican Church in Australia, the Church of England, and the Episcopal Church in the USA we suspect would be much the same and the differences likely to be uninteresting. Whilst we in the church continue our global and often embarrassing bun fights about sexuality, how much creative energy and thought have we spent looking hard at the issue of handing down to our children the Communion we're so desperately fighting for?

It's easy to see, based on numbers alone, that in a generation the church as we have known it won't be able to exist as it has. The buildings and the budgets, the salaries and stipends simply won't be supportable, balanced, and paid. The people who remain in the pews won't be able to carry on the infrastructure; it will be financially impossible. This isn't a speculative doom-and-gloom forecast; it's simply looking at the numbers and projecting forward. Of course there will be some young people who come into the church once they're married and have children of their own. But these, we suspect, will mostly be those who had some connection with the church in their childhood. Sandals (okay, Birkenstocks)

There is no doubt much good thinking about this critical issue, whether in individual parishes or dioceses. But we're not aware of any Anglican Communion summit-level activity tackling this issue, which we might crudely call 'passing on the brand'. If we believe that Anglican Christianity is the fullest expression of Christianity — and if we don't, why are we Anglican? — we must do better at bringing our children into it. Of course it is an enormous task, one which will no doubt often seem Sisyphean.

Countering the forces of secularism and materialism, greed and gain, in a world that often seems to reward force and fraud more than goodness and truth, is not easy. But surely we can make a more effective and more visible effort to do so. That means convincing parents that making the church a priority is a reasonable choice, in a world where they are already pressured by innumerable activities luring their children. It may mean initiatives to make traditional Sunday School far more like a portal to the adventure of Christian living — and surely it is an adventure — than a dull hour or so with Bible lessons. Creative and interesting educational curricula exist, but small successes in individual parishes must be taken up at a more visible level, we suspect, to attract and motivate harried parents. We wonder: How much is early Christian education a priority in your parish? Is it front and centre or something that's often pulled together, hugger mugger, often ending in a frantic search to find a volunteer to teach Sunday School? Do let us know how it is in the trenches.

Those born and brought up in the church between 1980 and 1995 — whose connection to it continues — will need to do far better at weaving their own children into its life. Given the bleak data in Making Sense of Generation Y, it seems we've essentially written off much of that population. As the old adage has it, the church is always one generation away from extinction. This time it looks, in first-world countries, like we shall come very close.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 14 May 2006

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