Future is here, in our midst
The phrase "young people are not the church of the future, they are the church of now" has been rumbling around my head and heart for the past few years. I'm not sure where I heard it, or if I've merely morphed what others have said, but the sentiment expressed seems clearer to me with each passing year.
As a church, as a movement of Christ followers, our existence and identity depend upon our young people catching the same spirit that has compelled us in discipleship, prayer, justice and service. It is not too far of a stretch to say that Christianity (or the UCC or any other movement of faith) is only one generation away from extinction if it fails to proliferate.
I see a warning of this possibility in early Church history, where monastic groups separated themselves into communities intent on living out their mission without the compromises demanded by civic society. They excelled at their mission, but did little to propagate the addition of new adherents to their movements.
A few of the more unique communities allowed something called "holy marriage," where couples could remain together for mutual support but vowed to live celibately. You can imagine that this arrangement did little to provide offspring in these isolated communities.
As these bands of dedicated religious diminished, some creative communities found new life by rescuing and adopting children left exposed to die because they were the wrong sex, or they had physical deformities or psychological problems.
For a time, these adoptive communities were able to maintain their existence based on their welcome of the unwelcome. But over time, their ability to "replenish" the community with foundlings was outpaced by the natural cycles of life and death, by attrition and through discriminatory practices of those outside the community who found their way of life incompatible with societal norms.
I don't assume there is a direct parallel between these ancient monastic communities and the behavior or composition of the UCC. Still, the example begs the question of what we are doing to foster our children, and those who come to us "adoptively," as agents of evangelism to further our mission.
So in this issue, we've invited youth and young adults from the UCC's Council on Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM) to provide the content you'll find on pages six through 10. I didn't ask them to write articles, per se. I asked them to reflect on questions of leadership, responsibility and opportunity. I asked them to speak their mind and let the church know how it can best meet their needs.
When this theme was first proposed, the general reaction was an apprehension that youth and young adults might write harshly of the UCC's inadequacies in ministering to them and utilizing their gifts.
I assure you, this fear will not be realized in what you read here — these are young people who love the UCC dearly and have great hopes for its future and their role in it. What I've heard many youth consultants say is borne out: Young people today have a more clearly defined sense of mission, grace, inclusion and relationship than any previous generation.
What you should also recognize is the willingness of our youth and young adults to use, what is to them, a very "old" means of communicating — print media — to communicate their message to the church. They embraced it as a challenge and a necessary technology leap (backwards!) to have their voices heard.
Now it is up to us to hear what they are saying (God is still speaking to youth and young adults...), encourage them on their journey and include them in the conversations that will shape our church. It is up to us to invite them out of the margins of the church and into the center. It is up to us to make the technology leap (forward!) to communicate most effectively with them.
Each generation struggles to pass leadership onto the next. They communicate, act, talk, dress and even think differently. My hope is that we discover and embrace the amazing gifts our young people can, and already are, offering to local churches, Associations, Conferences and the national setting. The future of our church depends on them. The church of now needs them.