Generations in the Church

No thesis here, just some dot-connecting…

Something is pinging my brain about leadership, identity, who the Church is, who the movers-and-shakers in the Church are or ought to be, and generational vision. As you can see, this is a pretty amorphous mass! But I do want to put a few things in conversation with one another.

The first is Fr. Tim Schenck’s post Generation to Generation that fusses with generations in the Church and generations in leadership. It, too, seems to me to be an act of noticing rather than a thesis about the nature of generations and generational conflict in and around church leadership.

Another is today’s Daily Episcopalian from George Clifford on clergy as professional revolutionaries. I see this piece as an example of a certain deeply-held generational perspective of what it means to do and be Church. The opinions and perspectives expressed here exemplify a stereotype (well on its way to being a caricature) of an aging, politically liberal leadership that seems to hold creeds, theology, and spirituality loosely but holding politics tightly. (And, perhaps, a way to retain clericalism while stripping the role of anything clerical!)

And, of course, as I type this, I perceive my own bias in my reflection…

My sense is that, for Fr. Clifford and others of his ilk, they would heartily disagree with my phrasing and would insist that political action IS a spiritual act—indeed, is THE spiritual act.

Akin to this is the baffled Facebook post from the Cafe over the weekend that could not comprehend why a Cafe piece on Evensong was being shared multiple times but one on racism wasn’t.

Contrast that with Fr. Hendrickson on the eucharistic character of the Church. If I said that George’s piece represents a stereotype of a very visible perspective of a certain generational slice, I could say a similar thing about Robert’s… For Robert, Eucharist is THE spiritual act.

It’s easy to take these positions, harden them, and oppose them to one another. I don’t want to do that. I think we will be making a grave error for the Church if we do it or let others do it to us. What I am seeing here are two different theologies with their own spiritual implications. And there need not be as much distance between them as some would try to create. See, for instance, Robert’s reflection on the Harvard Black Mass that touches on matters near and dear to the political. And yet to say that they’re just two sides of the same coin doesn’t feel right either.

Two theologies, two generations. I don’t think they’re necessarily correlated, but I do wonder what the trend balance is.

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About Derek Olsen

I'm a layman within the Episcopal Church with a PhD in New Testament and an interest in most things medieval, monastic, and liturgical. My chief job is keeping up with my priestly wife and our two awesome kids. In addition to that, I earn a living, run the St Bede's Breviary, listen to loud goth/industrial music, and do some stuff for the church. I currently serve as Secretary to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music where I'm also co-chair of the Calendar committee and chair of the Digital Publications committee.
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10 Responses to Generations in the Church

  1. Sean says:

    I have no problem with church leadership bringing attention to issues like violence, poverty, and other injustices. However, when they promote one political solution over another and promote it as the only solution, they are asking us to check our brains at the door and telling us that we are incapable of coming to a reasonable solution ourselves. It’s interesting that the leaders of this church encourage intellectual freedom when it comes theology, but that freedom is not really extended to politics. It’s either the progressive liberal platform or nothing. I find this tension to be unnecessary. What is wrong, for example, with telling parishioners that we have a violence problem and that there are many different solutions and to educate yourself on these solutions and make an informed decision? I just am not comfortable with the church telling me which political position/system is God ordained. It makes us no different than the fundamentalists that our leadership constantly criticizes.

    • Jon says:

      To be fair, some solutions work better than others, and those in authority wouldn’t be doing anyone any favors if they pretended otherwise when speaking to one of those issues.

      Additionally, there are attitudes and opinions across the political spectrum that are basically incompatible with living a devout Christian life, and it absolutely is appropriate for those in authority to speak against those political positions.

      • Sean says:

        Ok Jon, tell me what political ideology is laid out in the bible then? What political belief system is incompatible with living a Christian life? If there is no biblical mandate one way or the other, then we are free to promote various solutions to these problems. When leaders say there is only one way to do justice, it is promoting a very narrow political view. I refuse to check my brain at the door.

      • C. WIngate says:

        Jon, on one level I have to agree with that, but in practice, I tend to hear, in most of this “speaking back to power”, the voice of secular political positions.

  2. Barbara says:

    To me, the genius of the church is that it’s meant for all sorts and conditions of human beings. That means: the old and young, rich and poor, male and female, slave and free, etc. This isn’t to say that the church says the same thing to all these people; in fact, it says very different things sometimes to various groups (or to various aspects of a single human being, for that matter).

    In the saying about the Incarnation: “What is not assumed is not redeemed.” Well, we already know that God means to redeem the whole world: to draw all people to Himself. Which means that all of humanity is assumed in Christ; it means that there isn’t anything that can’t be redeemed. And to me, that’s the “catholic” part of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

    The problem with the Episcopal Church sometimes is that – unlike, say, the Catholic Church – it wants to create a sect of like-minded people. (This is perhaps just the Protestant Problem – and it’s an intellectual problem, not a religious one, IMO. Episcopalians seem to me to be often overly proud of how smart they are.) The Catholic Church doesn’t do this, though; it has people on the right and people on the left (for instance). It’s large; it contains multitudes. Everybody has a place (as long as they agree with the Magisterium, of course!).

    Perhaps human beings sijmply long for a Magisterium – and if we don’t have one, we’ll start creating one ourselves. It’s all about “making rules,” as far as I can see.

    I’m not surprised about the Evensong thing; people belong to the church for its faith and for its worship. That’s what makes it different from everything else. I mean: why would anybody bother with it otherwise? We can get politics anywhere (and, it seems, everywhere)…..

    • Alex says:

      “Episcopalians seem to me to be often overly proud of how smart they are.”

      I know what you mean here. I’ve heard a few too many sermons that patted everybody on the back for being so open-minded and willing to ask questions, with an implied “unlike certain *other* Christians” lurking underneath. It always reminds me of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

      • Alex says:

        Yeah, that pretty well covers it.

        Back in the Spring, I happened to visit the local Greek Orthodox church on the Sunday of the Pharisee and Tax Collector. The priest gave two sermons–one for the children, then one at the end for everyone else. Both homilies got right to the point of the parable: that we’re supposed to identify with -both- characters. That it’s all too easy to compare ourselves to others and think we’re better off spiritually or morally, while the Gospel calls us to humility.

  3. C. WIngate says:

    Clifford’s language is unfortunate but I more or less get his point, which I don’t think is as much about politics as about engagement. But I must raise three objections:

    1) The political language does encourage a picture of engagement which is fundamentally secular. If we were talking a revolution to get people baptized and churched, that would one thing, but I have to think that most of the people reading him are not going to think on those terms.

    2) His brief mention of established churches dodges past the problem that the clerisy of ECUSA is, by any standard, establishment. Indeed, a lot of the social action rhetoric one hears assumes that our clerics should be heeded as establishment figures. I’m not seeing that changing either, but the conflict with the revolutionary rhetoric is obvious.

    3) His message has the subtext that the church has no ministerial obligations to its members. I’ve seen this before as a way to suppress objections to CHANGE which is directed at recruiting hypothetical members. Chaplaincy may not be all of what must be done, but it IS something that must be done.

    As far as the generational thing is concerned, I have been know to remark that being a “boomer” means having attended college sometime from 1967-1972. As someone whose college was a decade later I can testify that by then there was already something a bit antique about the concerns of the protest community.

  4. George Waite says:

    Middle-class, middle-aged and middle-brow, Mainline Protestantism is NPR at prayer. And even Whiter in makeup. With a median age of 54+, and rising, it’s hard to see much interest in you except to see who gets your stuff when you die.
    Were it not for the “boutique activism” (Chris Hedges) like gay marriage, it’s hard to see anyone getting paying attention to anything you have to say.

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