Why the Church must do more to embrace young people – Archbishop of York
But there has been a huge development of online services of one kind or another. New congregations have been created. New people have been drawn into the life of the Church.
At the same time, churches have been at the forefront of working with others to alleviate suffering, be it debt relief, food poverty, homelessness or simply from those acts of kindness such as collecting the prescription for an isolated person.
I don’t think there has ever been a moment of fundamental renewal in the life of the church without a bias for the poor. It will be the same for us today. After all, what are we saving the parish for if not serving the world?
But it will not be just parochial. It will also be the chaplains of schools and prisons, and, I hope and I pray, a renewal of religious life. It happens.
I am enormously inspired by the young people I meet who form small Christian communities. I thank God for more established communities such as the Society of Saint Francis (and others) who continue to work and serve in some of our poorest parishes.
And isn’t the real test of the government’s upgrading program what it brings to the disconnected, to the marginalized, to those lacking in opportunities, to those without access to the best of the world? education, or often even to a dentist?
And to do all this, unity will be paramount. A church of variety and diversity needs deep roots in its tradition, deep roots in Christ, only then will it bear fruit. It is unity within the Church of England.
However, I am less and less convinced that theologians and church leaders will achieve this unity, although the vital work of ecumenical dialogue must continue and has borne fruit. Unity will be achieved because it is the prayer and the desire of the hearts of all of us.
When I was Bishop of Chelmsford one of the best things I did was pray each month with other church leaders across Essex and East London I think it did more for unity than any other meeting.
And it spilled over into acts of common service and witness. I intend to do the same in Yorkshire – this is how the world will come to believe.
I also dream of a younger and more diverse church. The average age of the members of our congregations is 61, which is 21 years older than the average age of the population.
Many of our congregations are not like the communities they serve. We need leadership in the church that is more diverse, inclusive and representative.
When I was parish priest, there were no children at church on the first Sunday morning. My wife was the youngest in the congregation. I was the second youngest. They were lovely people, but they didn’t really want a vicar, they wanted a hospice chaplain.
The turning point for me and for them was to recognize that things could change. But that change would only happen when that change came from all of us. And we started to be an outward looking church again.
On my last Sunday there were 30 or 40 children and a thriving youth group of which two members were ordained. I will always remember this as one of the happiest parts of my ministry.
And when I was Bishop of Chelmsford, as I looked around the table at my first staff meeting, we were all white and almost all men. And we had to recognize together that it was holding back our mission, undermining our leadership, and not looking like the people we were serving. Change is possible.
But these kinds of changes are not motivated by racial politics or aided by culture wars, but, again, flow from our life in Christ.
So yes, I dream that we will put more energy and resources into working with children and youth, schools and families and that we will find resources to fight racism, support racial justice and enable the church on Earth to be more like the church in paradise and serve those diverse communities that make up the assortment of British life today.
Young men have dreams, old men have visions, but a big part of the problem is that often middle-aged men are in charge.
Let us therefore put the young around the table, and may those of us who are not young and not yet so old, be brought to this purity of heart and this poverty of spirit by which we too are children of God. .
Stephen Cottrell is the Archbishop of York. He gave a talk called The Dream of the Church – this is an edited version.
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