Tuesday, February 17, 2009

We're an Adult Church

I read that recently. It was a description of the Episcopal Church by a priest to a parishioner. The context was an online discussion about lifelong learning in the Episcopal Church.

Now, if your mind works in the twisted way that mine does, at least part of you read 'adult church' and thought, "When do they get to the sex?" Alas, when Episcopalians get to sex, it's all a lot of talk. It took the Episcopal Church to make sex boring--many have tried, but few have succeeded like we have in taking a subject so filled with excitement, energy, and humor and making it dull, pedantic, and mind-numbingly off putting.

Well, thankfully, this comment was not about the sex lives of Anglo-Catholics (for once). Sadly, it said something worse; this priest was saying, in effect, that the Episcopal Church is really not for children.

This, of course, was news to me, having grown up in the Episcopal Church. I did not realize that all of that Sunday school, choir, acolyting, ushering, youth group, and being a page at diocesan convention was not aimed at me. Let's not forget the diocesan youth retreats and church camp. And we can just skip past the last thirty years of my life spent leading youth events on every level from the parish to the international stage.

Apparently, being a church that encourages an intellectual approach to one's faith, that allows questioning, that changes over time, and that encourages its members to figure out for themselves who God is (working through a community of believers, of course) is not for children.

I pray that this is an attitude that very few of my fellow clergy take. Or other Episcopalians, clergy or not. And especially those Sunday school teachers and Directors of Religious Education in our churches. If it is, than we may as well relegate our work to the same trash heap where the most failing school systems in our country belong. You know, the ones that don't teach children to think but only try to keep control and make them give rote answers. The ones where history is just 'one damned thing after another' and English is designed to make the kids hate to read and crank out five paragraph theme essays that say nothing.

Oops, I'm getting off track. How much do you want to bet that the congregation of the priest who made this comment has very few children? And how long will it be before he drives away the few that are left, thereby proving his point. And wouldn't you also bet that his adult education program is pretty boring too? It's like politicians who make a career of saying how badly government fails and then get into office and set out to prove their point. Except maybe it's not quite as calculated. More like an unwillingness to admit personal failure by blaming the whole system.

The problem with this declaration, of course, is that the ministry of children and youth in the Episcopal Church is succeeding all over the place. The evidence of that can be found all over the land. Yes, there are places that struggle, especially small churches that only have a few children.

But tell me a kind of ministry where this is not true. Then say it about any other church or denomination out there. Even Saddleback Church, Rick Warren's southern California mega-entity, isn't resting on its laurels. You just know that there is some back room there where someone is tearing her hair out saying, "Why isn't our __________ ministry reaching people?"

Well, I believe children want to think too. And churches that tell children what to think lose them as soon as they decide to think for themselves. Do we really want a program with a hundred children if 99 of them are going to leave before getting out of high school? Of course not.

But the attitude is the first thing that has to go. Yes, we are an adult church. And a young adult church (that's a whole other discussion). And a teen church. And a children church. And an elder church too. The sooner we start believing that, the better. Because any group of people can figure out when a church is not interested in them. Even children.

1 comment:

David Rose said...

Well said Kevin. That'll preach!