Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Worship with youth and young adults

Generation Overwhelm
Worship with younger adults now

Amy McCreath

On several occasions this summer, while driving my ten-year-old twins to or from day camps, I have turned off the radio because the news being reported is downright gruesome. And close to home. They are growing up in a very hard world.  

Of course, there has always been violence, always been bad news. But my sense as a parent, and as a priest with more than two decades of experience working with young adults in pastoral and educational settings, is that we are in a formational crisis. Few young people grow up with much stability, with any religious formation, with any models for sustained engagement in a community or healthy conflict. Young people are rarely taught skills for reflecting on experience or for discerning identity, at a time when consumerism and information overload offer unlimited options. As a result, many younger adults experience the world as chaos and carry the emotional, psychological, and physical dis-ease of the larger culture.

Now, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with liturgy.  I guess that’s my question for you:  what does it look like to offer life-giving, Christ-centered worship that forms people for God’s mission in light of the above?  My hunch is that a lot of the “praying shaping believing” and liturgy-shaping-us-for-mission that we work hard to facilitate assumes a congregant who is regularly present, arrives with a semi-intact sense of personhood, has enough grounding in the Biblical narrative that they can make something of the references to salvation history in the creeds and the Eucharistic prayer, and is not so overwhelmed by their fears that they can’t take in the good news being offered.

Here are some snippets of experience that lead me to this hunch:

The parish I serve offers a contemplative prayer service lovingly and beautifully crafted by a group of lay leaders each week. They write a new liturgy every week, using prayers and poems and stories from all corners of the Christian tradition. Younger adults I’ve spoken to who’ve attended report that the most meaningful part for them is the ten minutes of silence in the middle of the service. They rarely remember any of the words said. 

When I served as a campus minister, we did a “reverse instructed Eucharist,” asking participants to tell us what was meaningful to them and what various parts of the service seemed to mean. They remembered little of what the celebrants said, did, or wore. They remembered (and liked) holding hands in a circle at the Lord’s Prayer.

Younger adults who offer reflection on their experience of my preaching say that what matters most to them is that I begin with questions and invite participation from the congregation, which often includes everyone from people with PhDs in theology to children, newcomers and “oldtimers,” all speaking with equal authority.

When I asked a group of young parents in our congregation what part of the liturgy stuck with them through the week, they told me it was the blessing I offer, which begins, “Live without fear.” 

None of this leads me to definite conclusions. But it makes me hungry for a conversation with all of you. Who are the teenagers and younger adults in your life? How does or doesn’t worship speak to and form them?  How are you praying, thinking, and responding along with our God, whose children are growing up in an unsteady and confusing world?

The Rev. Amy McCreath is Priest-in-Charge of Church of the Good Shepherd, Watertown, MA, and a Council Member of APLM.

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