Facing the Challenges of the Third Millenium

In the fall of 1999 in Huntington, West Virginia, a workshop was conducted to survey nearly 80 teens from the Midwest Region regarding their opinions about the Church in the new millenium. This workshop was offered at the suggestion of His Grace, Bishop Demetri, in order that those of us who minister in the Church may meet the needs of our youth.

As a starting point for our discussion, the teens were asked what would happen in their church if certain people entered during a service. In general, the teens were much more accepting of different people than their perceptions of how adults in their communities would likely react. To some extent, there was a sense that strangers to Orthodoxy upon entering the church would not feel comfortable in Orthodox worship. In addition, they felt such visitors would not understand the depth of the liturgical experience and would instead view the experience as “cultic, paganistic and brainwashed.” On the other hand, there were some positive responses in which they felt their friends would see Orthodox worship as “unique,” and although the friend might feel “out of place would still think the experience was nice.”

The major focus of the workshop revolved around the question, “What do I want my church to be in the third millenium in the areas of worship, witness, service and fellowship?” There were numerous responses in each of the four areas. The remainder of this article will attempt to represent the general sentiments of the teens in their own words.

Addressing the issue of worship in the third millenium, it was explained to the teens that we do not have the ability to change or rewrite services. That having been said, we asked what are the needs and desires of our teens in the context of worship that we can fulfill. There were several consistent themes in their responses. The teens desire a fuller schedule of services other than just Sunday morning Divine Liturgy that would not only include their participation, but also encourage it. The desire for congregational singing, as they experience at the Antiochian Village Camp, is a high priority. They also see a great need for educating the faithful regarding the content, purpose and role of the services in our lives as Orthodox Christians. Other areas that were not as universally proclaimed, but still deserve mentioning, included teaching young kids about fasting, finding ways to eliminate distractions in church and Orthodox unity in America.

With respect to being a witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the new millenium, there were not as many responses. This is probably due in large part to the fact that witnessing is a more difficult spiritual exercise for young teens to comprehend. Most of their answers were tied heavily to worship including educating our faithful regarding the “traditions, spirituality and cultures of the church and be ready and willing to preach the faith to others.” There is a strong desire to recreate the atmosphere that exists at the Antiochian Village year-round in their local communities. In this type of environment the teens feel more comfortable in asking their questions about the faith. Having the feeling that their priest is accessible and willing to talk to them and answer their questions is another area that parallels their experience at the Antiochian Village.

Our teens have a great sense of compassion and commitment for helping the least of their brethren. There is a strong identification with living their faith when they are in service to their fellow man and the Church. Again, they have expressed the importance of education so that others may know the Christian significance of service. One concrete suggestion, which is probably more appropriately placed under worship, is to have an explanatory liturgy, where the priest would stop periodically throughout the service to explain the liturgy. Some teens felt that doing community service projects ought to be done by the entire body of the Church, as opposed to the teens by themselves. Many teens misunderstood this question. They thought it was in reference to the liturgical services of the Church as opposed to humanitarian service to others.

Fellowship among our youth has always been a strong point. Our youth enjoy each other’s company and friendships that are rooted in the love of Jesus Christ. One area with regard to fellowship that needs to be improved, according to our teens, is that fellowship ought to be shared by the entire community in the context of living the Gospel. It should not be solely, teens with teens and adults with adults. Many of our young people look forward to interacting with adults, learning from them and sharing their lives with their elders. Our teens also long for more opportunities to be together, both at the regional and local levels. This doesn’t have to necessarily be through social activities, but could be at retreats and through community service.

In conclusion, there are several reoccurring themes that our teens expressed with regard to the Church in the new millenium. They have a longing to have access to a priest who is willing to listen to them and answer their questions openly and in truth. If our priests spend this invaluable time with our youth, we will find that we will experience a more educated laity that desires to be active participants in the liturgy. As our teens become more comfortable with their parish priest, they will build a regular confessional life with their priest who then truly will be able to be a spiritual father to them. Education ought to be at the forefront of not only youth ministry but at the heart of all parish life. One specific term that needs to be clarified is that of service. The teens want to be better educated and see a lack of it in many of our adults. As adults we must remember to be models of Christian behavior in all facets of our life, that includes inside and outside the four walls of our churches. Our teens want living saintly examples in their lives. We have to respond to this call in the new millenium.