With our increasingly secular Canadian society I have always been thinking that people have disregarded the church. However this assumption has been challenged for me.
This spring I have been asked to participate in a Justice Tour developed by Citizens For Public Justice and the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC). Together with Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada and Karen Hamilton, General Secretary of the CCC, I have been listening to community leaders across Western Canada express their hopes and frustrations in regards to Canada's engagement with poverty and climate justice. It has been a moving experience. Whenever people share the concerns of their hearts, it is impacting.
This is where my assumption of secularization has been challenged. I was not surprised to see young adults engaged in the conversation. I was not surprised to hear their passion about issues of poverty and climate justice. I was not surprised to receive their criticism of church leadership. However, I was not prepared to experience the tone of their message for us as church leaders.
From Vancouver, Edmonton, and Saskatoon across six forums, I heard accounts of community action. I heard of new collaborations. And I heard a growing lament. I heard young adults lament the lack of church presence in their struggles of addressing issues of poverty and climate justice. Many of them acknowledged that it was because of the church that they were currently engaged in these activities. The church taught them that God cares about the poor. The church taught them to love their neighbours as themselves. The church taught them that part of worship is caring for neighbour and the earth that we all share. That is why they were so disappointed to experience the church's absence in the concrete struggles of advocacy and actions seeking social change.
I heard our young adults express a deep lament. They want their church with them. They want to be part of a faith expression that lives out the values they have been taught by their faith. But while they struggle for social change they look behind them and watch the church in a comfortable embrace of a society that benefits the advantaged. While they stand in solidarity with indigenous communities they witness the church avoiding indigenous peoples. While they stand in solidarity with the poor they witness the church maintaining distance through impersonal charity.
Our young adults are not very interested in maintaining the current form of church. In that, they are aligned with secular society; it isn’t interested in carrying on the current form of church either. Our young adults are compelled to be engaged with care for the poor and the earth. In that, they engaged with the Spirit of God.
Our young adults have not disregarded the church. Our young adults are missing the church. Many of our young adults are ready to take serious the expectations that God has for the People of God. And they long to be accompanied by the church in their efforts.
I was prepared to hear people say; "we really don't care about the church." Instead I heard a resounding question of deep lament: "church, where are you?"
Perhaps that is the question that has resulted in a growing secular society. When the church truly remains aligned to the activity of God's Spirit it will never become irrelevant.
In May, the Justice Tours will continue in Kitchener, Halifax, Montreal and Ottawa.