"Ask them to stay."
Reflection by Alex Easley, MDiv 2015, Diocese of Texas following Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's visit to Seminary of the Southwest:
Yesterday, the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, visited Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. Bishop Katharine presided at the noon Spanish-language Eucharist, in which she preached an amazing sermon in both Spanish and English, and then joined the community for lunch.
After lunch, the seminarians had the opportunity to have a conversation with Bishop Katharine in a small, intimate setting. Students asked questions and Bp. Katharine provided thoughtful, shrewd answers. One answer, however, left me disappointed. I raised my hand and asked the Presiding Bishop to share with us her vision for young adults in the Episcopal Church moving forward. I explained that, in my experience, the Episcopal Church creates a space for youth and for young families, but not for young adults. In every Episcopal church I’ve been to, the twenty- and thirty-something demographic is pitifully absent from the pews. We have youth groups and college ministries and Young Mothers Bible studies, but we don’t seem to be creating a very hospitable space for those young adults who find themselves in a sort of in-between space – fresh out of school, living on their own, starting their careers, and looking for a place to call their spiritual home. When I asked Bishop Katharine to share with us some thoughts on how we might address this issue, she more or less responded thus: If young adults want a place in the church, they have to speak up and make it themselves.
There is certainly truth in this assertion. Young adults will not achieve much by passively waiting for someone to solve this problem for them, and I very much appreciate Bishop Katharine’s recognition of the need for agency among young adults in bringing about the changes they would like to see in the church. But I think this response only answers half of the problem. As a church that prides itself on being welcoming, the Episcopal Church needs to pay attention to how it might be a community that better meets the spiritual needs of young adults. If we are to live fully into our mission to “proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; teach, baptize, and nurture new believers; and respond to human need by loving service,” then we have to invite young adults into our congregations and ask them to stay.
Now, I realize that the Episcopal Church has a national office for Episcopal Young Adult and Campus Ministries, and I don’t doubt that there is great leadership there. Clearly, if we are going to see real change on this issue, it needs to happen on more local levels, from the diocese all the way down to individual parishes. Nevertheless, hearing the chief pastor of the Episcopal Church effectively dismiss the need for any sort of action on the institutional level does not bode well for those wandering twenties and thirties. Let’s hope those clergy and laypeople on the ground – myself included – can be a little more imaginative, creative, and driven in their response to this very pressing pastoral need. Let’s open up this conversation nationally and in our own church communities, and start sharing with one another the solutions and successes we find.