Monday, June 17, 2013

To My Fellow EPISCOPALIANS...

Am I alone in noticing all the YOUNG people in the online streams and videos of very traditional Episcopal services?

I am so tired of all the experimentation, all the cutting-and-pasting-to-attract-the-young-people that so many Episcopal churches (including, unfortunately, my own church) are doing. They ignore or reject  the fact that many Episcopal churches are flourishing and even growing. Sure, many congregations with the generic or even far-out, experimental liturgical styles seem to attract young folks (and aging hippies) for awhile, but those young folks soon grow older, the fads pass, and where do those crowds go? Back in the day, if you found yourself in Episcopal service, you knew that you were in an Episcopal church --- not a Methodist or Presbyterian or Lutheran one, for instance. There were things we did right --- or, at least, we did them Our Way, and that way was Right in the eyes of those to whose hearts and spirits it spoke. But now, we seem to try to be all things to all people, and that simply doesn't work.

My own church is very near the campus of an extremely well-known university. The school is frightfully expensive, and I understand that fewer than half the students receive financial aid, so most are there on Mommy and Daddy's money. You'd think that it's exactly students from affluent families like those who would naturally be attracted to a neighboring Episcopal church, and a few kids from that school do venture into our services now and then out of curiosity early in each school year. Many of them leave at the Peace, midway through the service,  and few return. The relatively few Episcopalian students at that school who go to church at all trot (or drive their BMWs or Audis or Jaguars, actually) halfway across town to a parish in which the worship services are predictably very Episcopalian, very grounded in our literary and liturgical masterpiece, The Book of Common Prayer. I often hear people at my church suggest that those spoiled rich white kids from that university don't want to worship with the kind of very diverse congregation that ours is, but I beg to differ; the one that they flock to is at least as culturally diverse, with scores of very colorfully-garbed African natives and many Koreans in attendance. There are lots of aristocratic and upper middle class whites and blacks and a few Hispanics there every week, and that congregation is at least as conspicuously diverse (or "cross-cultural," as they prefer to describe themselves) as mine is, so it's not all the dark folks that turn those kids off. I volunteer at a very popular tourist site in L.A., and there's almost never a week that goes by that someone doesn't recognize me as an usher or a greeter at my church, and proceed to dump on me about all the things they find disturbing about our services. Most vow never to set foot in the place again, and they don't.

Go online, to YouTube and other sites, and check out services at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, or Grace Cathedral, or the Washington National Cathedral, or the huge (and growing) St. Martin's Church in Houston, or even smaller parishes; sure, there'll be lots of white-haired ladies and gents, but in the churches where services are staunchly Episcopalian and Prayer Book - based, you'll see a huge number of young people. If those people had been looking for a "fresh," celebratory experience, they probably would have found it in some other spiritual fellowship. The traditional, more sedate and formal Episcopal way of worshiping spoke --- and speaks --- to many, and it does no one a favor to tell those people that they should learn to worship in some other way.

Until this lesson sinks in, many Episcopal churches --- including mine --- will continue to struggle to attract more young folks.