Short Reads

The Bishop of Springfield caused quite the stir yesterday with a tweet about how unimpressed he was with the Official Youth Presence at General Convention. The tweet sparked many wonderful responses about the role of the Official Youth Presence and the impact it has had on clergy and lay people across the world.

The Bishop wrote a blog post responding to the controversy. At one point he issued what could be interpreted as an apology, saying, “I wish I hadn’t done it, but I did.”

This isn’t a direct response to those initial comments or the “apology”, but a post inspired by the sentiment.

The Bishop was unimpressed by the Official Youth Presence because they didn’t mention Jesus enough. He was also unimpressed because they were “annoyingly issue-oriented”.

There are two major issues with the Bishop’s comments. First, there is an assumption that the Official Youth Presence exists to impress. That assumption raises my blood pressure enough for me to write a separate post on it later.

The second assumption is that there is a bar of orthodoxy and Jesus’s-per-minute that people must adhere to in order to be considered credible. Tied to this assumption is the misplaced idea that without explicitly mentioning the name of Jesus, advocacy and service becomes “issue-oriented” instead of Christ-oriented.

That last assumption is also enough to merit a separate post, but let me say this one thing: If the Lord of the universe, the maker of heaven and earth, is relying on the vocabulary and word-choice of a group of youth, we are all in trouble.

Now I am not currently a “youth”, but I was once a “youth”, so I feel that I have the authority to speak from my experience. I also work as the Canon Missioner for Youth and Young Adults in the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, which gives me a small amount of credibility when I say the following:

Youth are unimpressed with much of the leadership of the church. 

Youth are unimpressed by the paralyzingly “issue-oriented” leadership that can’t see Jesus in the world unless he is wearing a nametag.

Youth are unimpressed by leaders who require “litmus tests” for inclusion. It appears to me that Jesus had two litmus tests for those who would be his followers: love of God and love of neighbor.

Youth are unimpressed by the ostrich style of leadership that would rather bury its head in the sand than relearn what it means to be a Christian in a new time and place.

Youth are disappointed when the church they love turns on them while they are trying to serve it.

It is time for some of the leaders in the church to get the mitre out of their eyes and see that a group of youth VOLUNTEERING to come to a international church convention is a blessing before it is anything else. In a time when the church decline industrial complex is booming, the fact that youth are willing to give up two weeks of their summer to spend time with Bishops that are admittedly “unimpressed” with them is a testament to the youth and an indictment of the Bishops.

My final point is about formation in the church. If the youth do not have the language to articulate their faith, whose fault is that? We could listen to Paul’s letter to the Romans on this one: “…how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?”

If the youth haven’t heard a clear proclamation of Jesus Christ in a way that is relevant and authentic, it can hardly be their fault if they lack the necessary language to articulate their faith.

My final advice to the church is to talk to the youth before you dismiss them. Talk to the youth who give up time in their increasingly busy schedules to volunteer and serve. Talk to the youth who defy the stereotypes about Millennials by believing in Jesus enough apply to be a part of an institutional church. Talk to the youth about what makes them come alive and how Jesus has impacted them personally before you write them off as “unimpressive”.

The youth that I have met and that I have the honor of working with are unimpressed with much in the world, but one thing is certain: they are impressed by Jesus, the One who has made enough of an impression on all of us to bring us into His Church to love God through one another.


UPDATE: I am grateful for Bishop Mark Bourlakas for his support of youth and youth ministry. Here is his statement:”I am so impressed with the commitment of the official Youth Presence here. It made me proud to be a bishop in the Church and in our Diocese where we have so many fun, talented and faithful young people committed to Jesus. Yesterday one of our own former DioSWVa youth, Grace Aheron, beautifully read the first reading at the Convention’s opening Eucharist.”

9 thoughts on “Unimpressed

  1. Well said. Any church ignores younger members at its own peril. There are already too many people whose faith unfortunately is shaped more by clergy than anything else. Having people turn off their faith because they feel unappreciated by the institution is an avoidable tragedy.

    1. I appreciate what you have to say regarding the situation with our Youth and Bishop Martins. The question has been raised as to why the Episcopal Church has diminishing attendance, and I think the biggest Problem is exactly as you and Connor have stated: being marginalized by the hierarchy— as a Gay Member of the Episcopal Church I can state I have watched it growing as a problem, and people rather than fighting with the hierarchy just walk away.

      if they want to solve the problem: live our Baptismal Covenant, and be Jesus to people {not counting the times he is mentioned, but reaching out to them in meeting the needs of the poor, the sick, the outcasts, the homeless and the disenfranchised of the Church}, and as we in the Church care for one another truly then the Church will grow!!! BTW, as you hinted, browbeating or Bible Beating someone doesn’t work!!!

  2. I WAS a member of the youth presence at general convention (97) and I was both disappointed and unimpressed with the leadership of the church, and the “need to mention faith” in place of using it to guide actual ACTION. Service is where you go for faith and worship, the general convention is a chance for the church at large to make important decisions that solidify the churches stance on key issues. If it’s about a display of faith and/or age, then have a tent revival for old people. I found the lack of younger representatives to be part of the issue. The old guard simply wasn’t interested in change and would take a stance on key issues, I stress the tabled anything that might be considered “controversial ” this is the reason statements like this are simply infuriating, there is a time and place for everything, and this is not a “Jesus race” it’s a convention for this who consider themselves part of the church to follow the directive “they will now we are Christians by our love”

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more. Many who are disenfranchised by the Church for other reasons have felt the same way as has been described by this article and that of ‘The High School Disciple.”

  3. i also work with youth and all I can say is thank you millenium generation , for not being impressing to others, continue to impress yourselves, for you will be the change that is needed in this world by who you are not who you impress.

  4. My story from TODAY: This morning after our Sunday service an “older” member (as in – over 40) introduced me to a younger (early 30s) visitor, who she had been encouraging to come check out our parish. The visitor had already filled out a pew card, signifying her desire to talk about becoming a member. She shared with me a bit about being so involved “nationally” with the Episcopal Church when she was younger, but how she had gotten frustrated that so much wonderful talk and resolutions had never materialized into any kind of discernible action. She had drifted away from the church as a result, but was trying to figure out how to come back, and thought this might actually be the place she needs. I told her that I fully understood her story: my own daughter had been on the same journey. Long story short – she and my daughter were both part of the same Official Youth Presence 15 years ago in Denver. They had both been so on fire at that time that they had gone back home to their different dioceses, and been elected as Deputies or 1st Alternates three years later. But by the time that was over they had each become frustrated with all the wonderful talk and nice resolutions, and wanted to see substantive change (my daughter, as a teen, was actually part of the 20/20 task force back then too – so a three year very intensive commitment to scoping out a plan of evangelism, that was gratefully accepted and then never heard from again). I am so thankful that this young woman has found her way back, but how many are we losing because we insist that they first need to be able to talk like they’re older, rather than listening to their hearts and their passion for following Jesus into making a difference in this world?

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