This column first appeared in the May issue of the Anglican Journal.
It was a clear, crisp winter’s day when our six-day-old son was marked with ashes. That Wednesday in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, we were reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. These words, in combination with Old Testament prophet Joel’s prophecy and the dark palm char on rosy newborn skin, left an indelible mark on my heart.
Recently a number of friends, colleagues and former students have been sharing a Huffington Post article entitled “What If the Kids Don’t Want Our Church?” Authored by Derek Penwell, a professor at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, the article provocatively asks: “What happens when a generation comes along that doesn’t care about the game you’ve spent so much time buying equipment for, has little invested in the durable nature of the stuff you value?”
We don’t have to look very far for a salient example-our church will do just fine. Ours is a moment where younger generations are rightly questioning the wisdom of our Christendom thinking in a post-Christendom world. They are calling us to account, and so they should.
Penwell goes on to state, “In many ways, these generations increasingly think the church has been running toward the wrong finish line for years-concerned…not with figuring out how more faithfully to live like the Jesus of the Gospels, but in acquiring bigger and better stuff to hand down to a generation that doesn’t particularly want to inherit it.”
The ashes upon my son’s forehead that morning reminded me of my frailty. But more than that, they remind me that the church I envision for myself and for my peers will not be the church he envisions. My generation and I need to hold our vision of the church lightly, even as we ask older generations to do the same.
All around me, spring flowers are in bloom, seeds planted in the fertile soil of decay. As signs of new life abound, the haunting image of ashes on my son’s forehead remind me of my call to follow the way of the cross. The cross brings with it the hope of resurrection. And now, anticipating the blazing fires of Pentecost, I find myself desperately awaiting signs of an Anglican spring.
ANDREW STEPHENS-RENNIE is a member of the national youth initiatives team of the Anglican Church of Canada.