Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Last month I was invited to a conference by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, not a usual venture for an exams officer to undertake1. The two day programme in the beautiful city of Durham was to equip those who are dedicated to the support and welfare of young people in the north of England (yes, apparently the north stretches as far south as Nottingham in this case - the Archbishop has a big vision and knows no limits!)
During my short yet impacting time at Cranmer Hall, I attended a heart wrenching seminar on Generation Y (those born between the 80’s and the beginning of the new millennia). Ruth spoke on the challenges that face Gen Y and why the works of previous Gen X has left them with little to live for. Our students have been tragically named; ‘the debt gen’,’ the tech gen’, ’the ‘me’ gen’... Gone are the days when teenagers are handed over to the world and expected to become responsible in order to survive, as the phenomena of ‘Helicopter parents’ makes it possible for adolescents to ‘just have fun’ without needing to grow up. Through social media we have instant communication, virtual friendships, and a wider yet shallow support network. There is a constant fight to become a ‘somebody’ rather than a ‘nobody’ - counting quantity of friendships, in the desperation caused by lack of quality friendships. All seems lost when depression, eating disorders and mental health problems are growing, and more teenagers are prescribed anti-depressant drugs than ever before. With escalating divorce rates and family breakup, the promise of debt after education and the disappearance of real community, Gen Y has got it bad. But there is hope.
John Sentamu with his inescapable humour and gripping stories wooed a dominantly western culture group with his words of compassion and his heart for the broken. In the mist of postmodernity we keep getting lost in translation, but Sentamu like a breath of fresh air sweeps through and makes a clear path for the purpose of growth and journey. Calling us to speak the language of our culture, he spoke of revival in our generation, of new beginnings and alternative ways of leading our youth. He encourages us to use a language that translates, to speak through with words of hope, a new alternative: living freely, engaging deeply, with burdens lifted and hope restored.
The Church (meaning ‘the people’ as a thriving living collective, rather than a decrepit old building) plays a huge part in this, and IS relevant today! Contrary to popular belief, listening to the blare of an organ and sitting in a pew with your head hung solemnly is not fundamental to Christianity. The church of the past may have adopted such a style, but form can change whilst content stays the same. What is really important to the Christian faith is that it offers a relationship like no other, and the way we actively engage in that relationship on a daily basis needs to work. Although some congregations are stuck in the past, most have begun to speak the language of today, translating what has always been truth into something that is accessible, enjoyable and impacting. But is the rest of the world aware of this revival?
Preconceptions and stereotypes are stubborn barriers to erode, but this cannot be avoided simply because it’s a tough challenge. More than ever before, we need to offer our generation some good news for once. There is a place that they can find acceptance, there is a place that they can find recognition, and there are communities in which they can form deep relationships with real love at the centre. You may chuckle, but the Bish really is ‘down with the kids’ - and many more are united in this new vision to save a lost generation.
1. I have left the realm of studentdom and now have a job in the 'real world' - well... kinda... I'm studying for an MA in Systematic & Philosophical Theology in my 'spare' time.