This column appeared in the Feb. 2013 issue of Anglican Journal.
One day, several years ago, I walked into the office and a well-meaning colleague pointed me out to a guest, saying, “Hey, there’s the youth!”
Inwardly I groaned. My heart sank. At 30 years old, I thought that I brought more than my age to the table. The truth is that I was the youngest person in the office at that time. Yet I cared deeply about the church and its ability to more effectively minister amongst young postmoderns.
For such ministry to be successful, it seemed a translator was required.
This insight became clear to me during a late-afternoon conversation with the Rev. Canon Dr. Bill Prentice, the now-retired director of community ministries in the diocese of Ottawa. Bouncing ideas around about the shape of campus ministry in the 21st century, we worked hard to understand each other; we talked about the theology of the church and what it might look like when put into practice.
Our perspectives were different. Informed by our own experiences, our formation in different denominational contexts and a generational gap, we had to expend some effort to more fully understand one another. It took time, intentionality and a desire to learn. Today, we sometimes half-jokingly refer to our conversations as cross-cultural dialogue.
Our church today faces such cross-cultural challenges. In a postmodern, pluralistic and multicultural society, how will we translate the gospel into languages that are comprehensible to those unlike ourselves? And how will we do so when we still struggle to articulate the good news of Jesus Christ to people who appear to be just like us?
Our church needs translators. We need people who can translate and proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. So often we hear the complaint that young people are bored of church. And yet, theologians Kenda Creasy Dean and Andrew Root announce in their book, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, “Young people are not bored by theology. They are bored by theology that doesn’t matter.”
I wonder: if young people aren’t bored by revelant theology, how could we best teach, baptize and nurture these new believers? And perhaps just as important: how could we invite them into a story, a community and a theology that truly matters?
Andrew Stephens-Rennie is a member of the national youth initiatives team of the Anglican Church of Canada.