The Leveson Centre for the study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy
Revd Dr David Isiorho, Rector of the Faxton Churches Group in Leicestershire, originally wrote to the Church Times challenging the view that 'the only people really worth having in church are young people'. We invited him to elaborate on this theme.
I see the shires as the precious repository of the Church of England tradition. Careful nurture in the rural context could prove vital for our very survival over the next few decades. However, rural churches often feel abandoned when young people from urban shadow villages go to church in towns claiming that their local parish does not have the resources to offer them lively worship styles.
There has been a great interest in family services and so-called all-age worship for many years now. Having tried these things myself and found them wanting, I no longer have an enthusiasm for such an approach. As a sociologist I know that most people don't live in nuclear families and that we are becoming in the UK a much older population with many people living on their own. It may not sound fashionable but I would like to make a case for honouring anyone of any age who is willing to attend church on a regular basis. Our prayer is that more people will want to do this as an expression of their genuine love for God as revealed in his Son Jesus Christ.
All-age worship has a familiar and over-worked theme, namely that the only people really worth having in church are young people because they are the future. To add sophistication to a simplistic argument it is also acknowledged that young people are the church of tomorrow. Presumably an older congregation which is considered to be undesirable is the church of yesterday. However, many young people drop out of church to return later in life and are joined by many others who had no former experience of church at all. Sometimes people get involved following bereavement and a funeral conducted in a way that made sense to them. Let's stop this nonsense and recognise that the only church that really matters is the church of now - the church of today.
So why is so much being invested in the youth and not the experienced members of the congregation? Does not the church of yesterday inform our practice for today? And how relevant is the concept of the church of tomorrow for our purposes? Our Lord could return any time and churches are not required in heaven any more than sacraments.
Many so-called all-age worship services are little more than play groups that may include the odd prayer or spiritual song. Having little experience of normal worship it is difficult to see how they could remain part of the church of today let alone form the church of tomorrow. Young upwardly mobile parents often use the children as an excuse for their infrequent communion and lack of attention to the liturgy and make far more noise than their children ever could. My response to their fears about children making a noise in church is not to worry - I can always raise my voice! Attending tailor-made services for children does not encourage young families to come to the Lord's Table or nurture them in an understanding of the worship and life of the church. Rather it gives them a further opportunity to opt out.
A thriving Junior Church in a rural benefice will be seen by many people as a sign of the kingdom. Sadly they could be mistaken. If the Sunday School or Sunday Club as they are often called has been set up by a group of parents exclusively for their own children then it is not going to last very long. Once the children are in their teenage years they start to drift off to all-singing and all-dancing churches elsewhere.
We should remind ourselves that we are here to build the Kingdom of God. Young people are important but so are older people, some of whom have been faithful throughout their lives and stayed within the household of faith. We should discover, and help to release, the blessing of the diversity of gifts within the whole church. And that means accepting difference. Rural and urban churches are clearly different as are young people and older people and for that very reason we need to find new ways of working together in the here and now. For all are made in the image of God and redeemed in the blood of Christ.
In this partnership we truly can develop an informed and vibrant community of Christians who believe in and live by the gospel. The dynamic implications here for mission are important and exciting. We should seek to be neither the church in waiting nor the church in hiding but the church in action here and now. In this way we can continue our threefold vocation to be holy, catholic and apostolic.
The Leveson Centre