by Tom Sine
Young people all over the planet are joining with Pope Francis in celebrating World Youth Day. They are lobbying for positive change not only in Catholic churches but in a world facing a host of daunting new challenges as we race into the Turbulent 2020s!
A group of young teenage pilgrims arrived in Lisbon responding to Pope Francis’ call “to shake things up.” A working paper for the meeting released in June, outlined a more inclusive, decentralized and transformed Catholic church. This article in the New York Times (“Young Catholics Together, Even if Not in Agreement” The New York Times August 5, 2023) revealed what most protestant churches are hearing from their rapidly shrinking number of young leaders as well.
Many of the young people attending this World Youth Day come from a broad range of perspectives and strongly favor a more “just and inclusive society” that is promoted by a Catholic University in Portugal. I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Catholic leaders and will be following this important global celebration that is engaging this new, often more progressive, generation that aren’t all Catholic or religious for that matter.
Many mainline protestant and evangelical churches have been experiencing growing decline in attendance since Covid particularly among young adherents. I find most protestant pastors, while they are disappointed, are not surprised by the decline because Pew Research has been predicting it.
However, I find few pastors or lay leaders who seem have read the very good news that Pew Research is also sharing about the new populations of both Gen Y & Z in the U.S.: that those generations may have much more awareness about environmental, racial and economic justice than those of us in older generations. A growing number of this new generation are expressing a strong desire to actively join those who are very concerned about the growing environmental crisis and social justice issues and in neighborhood empowerment projects and job training programs.
Six years ago I wrote a book celebrating this good new generation; it has a bit of a rude title: LIVE LIKE YOU GIVE A DAMN! JOIN THE CHANGEMAKING CELEBRATION.
I was totally surprised to receive a call from my publisher’s office from Walter Brueggemann, the author. He had just read the manuscript for LIVE LIKE YOU GIVE A DAMN! And he asked if he could write a forward for the book,
Of course I said yes. Here is one of Brueggemann’s endorsements in his forward: “I am glad to commend this exposition that exhibits quite concretely ways to revision, reimagine and re-perform the gospel… This book is dedicated to all of those in Gen Next and all those who are seeking and all those seeking to join this change-making celebration.”
I wrote this book to celebrate this good news generation, and I strongly urge church leaders to consider finding innovative ways to collaborate with young people in their communities who are not connected to congregations.
I am proposing something that is quite unconventional for graying congregations, I am proposing that churches that have very few young people, consider collaborating with young people in your communities who would welcome the opportunity to be involved in neighborhood empowerment and environmental projects.
In my book I shared a story about a very remarkable congregation. The Colonial Congregational Church in the Twin Cities area sold some of their property for almost a million dollars.
Then they did something remarkably creative to engage the good news generation and foster neighborhood change-making. They used the money they earned in their land sale to sponsor an annual contest to enable those from the good news generation to create new forms of community empowerment.
The Colonial Congregational Church started a very unusual community project called “Innove”. They sponsored a contest for young people in the Twin Cities who wanted to become a part of creating innovative responses to new challenges in these turbulent times. Notably the winning young participants who won this contest every year for 10 years were not expected to become members of this church.
The first winner was a young woman, a grad student named Leah Driscoll. She and her husband and friends were the first winners. Leah had discovered, in her research, that the poorest citizens in the Twin Cities lived in a region inhabited with mostly elderly residents with marginal incomes. They had virtually no access to reasonably priced groceries. The higher prices of small local outlets were making their lives very difficult.
Leah, her husband and their team won the first year of the contest with a proposal for Mobile Market! The first thing they did was to purchase a used school bus in good condition. Then she and her team found a place to purchase wholesale priced groceries including produce. That enabled them to visit their clients at the set locations every week. Vulnerable seniors could then purchase reasonably priced food and produce. This was the first example of the potential of the good news generation to create innovative ways to make a difference in their community.
A group of business leaders in the church became the Launch Team to help this first winner and every winner over ten years to launch their winning ideas for neighborhood empowerment without compensation. The traveling grocery store was a huge hit with those neighbors who had marginal incomes and became a regular part of their community,
Thank God Colonial Congregational church continued offering an annual Contest for young people who wanted to make a difference for 10 years.
As the Catholic Church celebrates this World Youth Event wouldn’t this be a good time for people in all churches to make a much greater effort to contact with young people in our communities who would welcome the opportunity to be involved in community change making? You too might find some young people who would welcome the opportunity to make a difference in your neighborhood.
If you would like to learn more about how your church can engage members of the Good News Generation where you live to create neighborhood empowerment projects…. or secure a copy of Live Like You Give a Damn: Join the Changemaking Celebration contact : Tom Sine
Photo by THIS IS ZUN
Christine Sine is offering three seasonal, virtual retreats to explore living in balance and in line with the natural and liturgical rhythms of the year. Join her for one or all of them September 2, October 14 and December 9. These retreats will encourage us to center ourselves and our lives as we move through the seasons beginning in Fall and moving through Advent. They will be times of reflection, creativity and fun.