Word Magazine April 1974 Page 13
A REFLECTION ON YOUTH
By George A. Alberts
In today’s society it seems that one of the most overworked topics is youth. Newspapers, magazines, and books have been devoted totally to the question of youth as a distinct category. From reading these items it appears that there exists today some special situation that never existed in the past. It also appears that every imaginable sub-topic of modern-day youth has been completely exhausted. All articles seem to be repeating preceding ones. I think, unfortunately, that this trend will remain until some solution to the “problem” is found. However, this seems unlikely.
What then is the “problem” of youth today? It can be stated in one youth phrase: youth and its physical and social environment. A young person, especially now, is ever conscious of the roles he is expected to play and the many costume changes he must make in life. He sees others around him and notes their reaction to his situation. From these reactions he develops his own views of himself and finally he reaches some concrete conclusions. These conclusions will constitute a permanent aspect of his character. In today’s society, with such a multiplicity of role changes, anyone can get lost! It is in this condition that a young person is placed. To deal fully with this problem would take not one but many books. I would like to deal with just one small segment of the problem: youth and its relationship to the Church.
Youthful participation in the Church is determined by a multitude of factors. The person who usually
plays the key role in this overall development is the parish priest. For many teenagers in parishes the priest is a well respected, often well loved, outstanding member of the community whom they see each Sunday. What is wrong with this? Well, nothing except the last item: the priest is seen by the young only on Sunday or occasionally at meetings or parish events. Other than in these instances many of our youth do not really know their priest. It is not the priest to whom they turn for help, call on in time of distress, or just plain want to talk with. For them his role is only liturgical. Too often the parish priest is seen by youth as a servant of God rather than a servant of his fellow men also. This is one of the things that can easily be corrected, but, unfortunately in many cases, has not even been recognized as a problem.
For the young of our churches today, being baptized and having attended church school in a particular church does not necessarily mean they feel part of the Church. It seems the parish structure often hinders this. Our teenagers seem to reach an age at which they are too young for some organizations and too old for others. The result is an alienation from the parish. Unless this problem can be solved on the local level we are in danger of losing many of our youth. When they are in search of acceptance in the Church, we should be more than ready to offer it to them. Yet many times the young knock and we keep the door shut.
Probably one of the biggest causes of this is the attitude of many adult church members towards youth. It seems that all the efforts of the media to discuss youth have made the youth of today, as a group, something to be feared and handled with extreme caution. It is this fear and confusion that often causes serious problems between the adults and teenagers in a parish. Their self-professed “inability to handle today’s youth” causes a counter-reaction by the young. That is, the young find themselves unable to cope with adults who are in turn unable to cope with them! Sound confusing? It is!
Another attitude also makes it difficult for many young people to relate to others in the parish. That is complacency. It seems today, as I am sure it was in the past, only comparatively few people in the parish are actually active in its organizations. The rest just come to Church on Sunday and attend the social functions. How can the youth be encouraged to remain in the Church, to work in the Church and to love the Church when most of those around them just sit back and let the Church go on through the work of the “faithful minority”? Most parishioners are probably unaware that they hold these attitudes. There are many things, however, that are done intentionally or with a reason behind them, yet most of the “reasons” are the wrong type.
Youth is sometimes openly discouraged by adult members. They are often treated as what they consider “second-class church members” by those who, as they say, “have been here for years.” Reasons vary. Some adults fear that as the younger members move in they will replace the older members of the Church. Instead of being afraid of this, this is exactly what we should all hope and pray for, not fight against. It is only in this way that our Church can continue to exist and grow. Others think that the ‘‘fully’’ American youth of today will somehow, if allowed in the Church, cause it to lose its ancestral heritage. This is the attitude that hampers the hopes of a united Orthodox Church in America.
Holding, much less carrying out, the above-mentioned attitudes can be fatal, not only to our youth but also to our Church as a whole. It seems from what has been said that the outlook is very bleak indeed. In many cases it is. There are situations, I am sure, where all of these problems can be and have been solved. It is up to us to try and solve our own problems whether national, local, or personal. If each of us does his part perhaps tomorrow the Church will be a better and more open place and our children will not have to face the same problems we are facing now. Let us remember also, that if we sit back and do nothing, our children may not have a Church tomorrow.