I don’t think numbers are by any means everything, but they are not nothing. So I do want to start by underlining that about a million young people were at the Friday Stations of the Cross, and about three million are reported to have celebrated with the Pope on Sunday.
I was recently on holiday in another city. [Let me protect the innocent/guilty by not naming the city]. Those I spoke to said there were two thriving churches there (numerically, with youth, etc.). One was Pentecostal, the other Roman Catholic.
It seems to me that Anglicanism in this country (aging and numerically struggling) looks with envy… in the Pentecostal direction. Yet, IMO, Anglicanism, as a reformed catholic church, would more naturally be able to learn from that other reformed catholic church, Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism.
Rachel Held Evans says,
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.
Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.
What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.
Andrea Palpant Dilley is saying something similar
the next generation might … unearth the altar, the chalice and the vestments and find them not medieval but enduring. They might uncover the  Book of Common Prayer and find it anything but common.
I’m not suggesting that Roman Catholicism has all the answers. Nor that the answers are simple. I’m suggesting that some/much of what Anglicans (and others – if the hat fits, wear it) do, tastes of bait-and-switch, confusing worship and evangelism, encouraging shallowness rather than depth, concerned about “who will keep our pretty building and our lovely tradition going?” Young people, then, are there for us more than we are here for young people…
So what are some of the Roman Catholic positives that I think Anglicans could look at and think about?
- A community that centres on spirituality
- Leadership that has an intentional focus on spirituality
- Services that are primarily worship (not entertainment; emotional hype; a replacement for education, caring, or evangelism…)
- Liturgy that is mostly by heart
- A strong focus on education of the young, with Roman Catholic schooling
The Christchurch Roman Catholic diocese is planning Faithfest. They will have Mass at our largest indoor venue, CBS Canterbury Arena. It will be followed by an expo, cultural festival, and a a combined ecumenical choir.
Would Anglicans risk the possible embarrassment of organising such an event now? The last time we had such a diocesan event was two decades ago – the visit of Archbishop George Carey here. Compare that to the visit of his successor a couple of decades later.
What do I think are some of the things young people are looking for?
- Integrity. They are looking for real role models, people they can relate with, people who are honest with them, including about weakness and doubt. Pope Francis is doing this.
- Intelligence. Young people don’t want to be patronised. They don’t want a spirituality that stands in opposition to knowledge, information, science, technology. Spirituality is not to be an escape.
- Interest. They appreciate people who take an interest in them – not those who see them as pew-fodder to sustain the future of the building, community, tradition, or institution. Not faked interest that has as its real purpose a bait-and-switch of converting them, or some other goal. And they will return the interest.