"As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience."
Reflection by Donna Schaper
At the Penn West annual conference meeting in June, someone popped the question. According to our well-traveled minister and President, Geoffrey Black, someone always pops the question. He had done a sterling power point presentation about the state of the church today, followed up with a Q and A. What is the question that was popped? It was WHERE ARE THE YOUNG PEOPLE?
This is a question that shows little "compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." It has little compassion, which is the capacity to care for others with the same warmth we want for ourselves. It has less kindness, so often is it disguised with the fear of having to pay the bills all by ourselves. It wants for humility, because we clearly have forgotten what it was like to be young and obnoxious and on our own way, in our own time, for our own newness. Meek doesn't apply either, because meek has to do with the capacity to keep yourself out of the front and center position.
It's not the question that bothers me so much as the way it is always put in caps, as if we need to find out who is to blame for the lost generation in our congregations and then spank them. Patience is likewise a stranger to this now-cliché of a question. Waiting and seeing is better than demanding.
In my years as an area minister, I often worked with pastors and their families around the question of their lost offspring. "He just doesn't go to church." "They did not have my grandchild baptized." Ouch, and double ouch and triple ouch. There is no want for the pain of children who don't bless us on their way out the door. What will resolve the pain of those who have gone their own way? What will manage the pain of those who gave a gift and found it spurned?
First, we need freedom from CAPITALIZED QUESTIONS that couch and cover a demand. Second, we need to abandon the cliché. As they say in Brooklyn, fuggedaboutit. Instead, we could have more compassion, humility, kindness, meekness towards ourselves, and refuse to engage in self-blame or in blaming youth. Then we would be free to go different ways that we really mean and aren't just faking.
Finally, we could have an absolute ban on using the word "youth" out loud. There is no such thing. Instead, there are people who happen to be young.
Drive us deep, O God, into our own adolescence, our own childhood, our own past, so that we may merit or imagine a future without "youth" in it. Amen.
About the Author
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Check out her blog, Grace at Table, at donnaschaper.com.