Youth represent the Diocese of Maryland at the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE), July 2023, with then Bishop-elect Carrie Schofield-Broadbent in College Park, Maryland.
Dear Leaders of the Church,
I’m writing to you in the hope that our ministry together will continue to grow in the years ahead. As I have begun visiting congregations and having conversations with ministers across our diocese, I continually hear “We have fewer kids” or “We have no kids in church.” One of the strongest requests I’ve heard is “How do we get children and families to come back to church?” Knowing that each parish is unique, there is no universal answer.
The fear of scarcity is real and many congregations are facing it. The world is a different place than it was three years ago. What we have always done may not be the answer anymore. So what is the answer? As Jesus taught us time and time again, the answer is love.
As the parent of young children myself – I know the struggles that young families are currently facing. I also have the joy of working with older kids and their families. I love working with the young adults who are still connected. And yet, across the board there is an overwhelming sense of isolation and anxiety. The pandemic did more damage than anyone realizes or wants to talk about. The world opened back up and expected everything to go back to “normal.” But that’s not how humans operate.
The piece that is missing is community – community rooted in something bigger than itself and more meaningful than the things that keep us busy every day. Families need the sense that they are part of something that is going to raise them up and together. Youth need a place to feel loved and accepted without having to work hard to prove themselves worthy. Young adults need help in figuring out who they are and where they belong. All of these things are what made me a believer as a young person, and they are why I take my rowdy kids to church.
I know the pews are not brimming with children and youth right now. So I ask that we widen our lens to see what the big picture can be. Are we ministering only to those in the building or are we ministering to the community at large? Have we reached out to our neighbors in the last few months to see what they need and how we can be of service? Have we talked with the one or two young people who do show up? Asked them what feeds them and why they come (no matter how infrequently)? Have we given voice to those who feel they have none?
Now is the time for us to gather as a community of love, pooling our resources so that we can give our kids experiences that will help them on the faith journeys. Our communities’ kids are our kids. The absolute best part of my ministry has always been taking one youth, who may be the only one at a given congregation, then two or three from another congregation, and a half dozen from a separate congregation, and seeing what God can do with their time and talents, how God can work through them in their communities and in the world.
I encourage you and your congregation to try new things! These are new challenges which give us new opportunities to be creative, experiment, and be willing to fail! You are not alone these days. Please reach out for resources, event opportunities, and a chance to gather with the wider community. If you have one young person – you have opportunity. If you have no young people, you have opportunities for ministry. The scarce mind set is one of anxiety and fear. We know as people of God that there is more, and we are better together. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20
Check out our Road to EYE video from 2023
produced by Lee Timmons
The road to EYE starts with sending youth from our congregations to diocesan convention where they gain a sense of what it means to be a part of our larger Church and how we govern together to make decisions as a Community of Love. See Bishop Carrie’s Facebook posts from EYE 2023.