Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Don't Think of the Children!

One of Charles Palliser's characters remarks, if we recall correctly, "Nothing is ever changed until it conspicuously fails to function.  That is the glory of the Anglican Church."  Would only that things were so!

It seems that the Episcopal Church is considering revisions to its Hymnal 1982.  That such a project is fraught with danger goes without saying.  What does need to be said is this, which comes through clearly in this survey report and in the thoughtful analysis by Fr. Robert Hendrickson (and a tip o' the biretta to Fr. Rocknrolla for directing us to it):

The group that was most resistant to the idea of revising the hymnal are those under 29 years of age. They are the most resistant by a large percentage. ...
The survey found that those “whose age is significantly above or below 50 are less likely to support revision. Middle-aged Episcopalians are more supportive of revision than younger and older Episcopalians.”
Hendrickson goes on in considerable detail here, and little of what he says is surprising to us.   Basically, the people who favor revision most are middle-aged female clerics.  (Reasons for this will probably be evident to people who work with a lot of middle-aged female clerics, Egg readers notably excepted.)  The people who favor revision least are young adults -- even though, if history is any guide, the revision will be promoted as an attempt to make worship "contemporary" and "relevant" to just  those young adults.

Over the twenty years or so that we have been paying attention, there has a been a small but consistent stream of research suggesting that young people, especially those who are attracted to comparatively traditional churches and most especially those who come to those churches as adults, after some prior experience with the less-traditional, place a high value on tradition.  They want church to look, feel and sound like church.  They don't walk into Le Perigord expecting a Kiddie Meal, and feel a little insulted if they are offered one.

It seems obvious when you say it that way, but it goes against what the report calls "the 'common knowledge' hypothesis."

Beyond that, anyone who has paid the least attention to decades of marketing fluff has heard that both GenXers and Millennials have been so thoroughly marketed-to, in the course of their lives, that they can smell marketing a mile a way.  And it smells like pandering, which they find contemptible.  What they seem to crave is authenticity.

All this is counterintuitive -- even incredible -- to the Baby Boomers, who were also marketed to intensively, albeit less skillfully, and whose rather jolly life experience is indeed one of being constantly pandered to by those seeking their approval, their participation, and their cash.   But it shouldn't; the church of their youth pandered to them with folk masses and slangy prayers, and they abandoned it in droves.  So whether they believe it or not, there is now a half-century's clear evidence that making worship "contemporary" and "relevant," at least as those terms are understood by the sort of ideology-driven church insiders who revise hymnals, is a suicidal error.

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