As I stand in the pulpit of Trinity Episcopal Church, Lincoln, I see something different than I did the first years of my ministry here – heads of dark hair. Not just a few here and there but whole pews of it. On a recent Sunday morning I counted 13 people under the age of 30 and that did not include children. For our larger churches that may not seem noteworthy but when your average attendance hovers in the low 40’s, you notice.
Our story of how that came to be is mostly a confluence of specific things that hold only for Trinity, Lincoln but I believe there are ideas that can be applied to most Episcopal churches too. If I must pick a theme that attracts and holds these young people I would call it liturgical depth. But, let me tell the story and we can flesh that out a bit.
A couple of years ago, Dr. Christopher Simpson, Professor of Philosophical Theology at Lincoln Christian University (LCU) in Lincoln, came to Trinity with his family. The Simpsons quickly became active in parish life; Chris is on Vestry, his wife Kaysha leads our children’s Sunday School effort and Chris and/or his son David can be found serving at the altar most Sundays. Sometime later, Jonathan Totty came to LCU to complete a Master in Theology degree. Jon was already intrigued by the liturgy because he had attended noonday liturgies at the Cathedral at the invitation of a Methodist minister he knew. Jon and his family began worshipping at Trinity the first weekend they moved to town; currently, they are at Nashotah House preparing for ordination. Chris and Jon were open about where they worshipped and thus a number of like-minded students and recent graduates have found their way to Trinity.
Our young newcomers appreciate these aspects of the Episcopal Church demonstrated at Trinity:
- A greater sense of transcendence and of the holy; God is other than us, not just our buddy
- Worship includes the learning and tradition of the early Church and the best of what followed
- The whole of Scripture is revealed; four lessons each Sunday using the three-year Lectionary
- The Church Year, emphasis on Holy Communion and the depth of hymnody are appreciated
- Sermons have theological heft (they are also shorter!)
- The Gospel, Scripture, liturgy and the Sacraments are key, politics is left at the door
These comments are not exhaustive but they give the flavor of what is attractive for these young people.
So, how can this be replicated in other churches in the diocese? Relationships. Obviously, having ambassadors like Chris and Jon was key! But, I have audited a class, attended seminary worship periodically, and guest lectured in some classes. Thus when Chris and Jon invited students to come to Trinity, we were not totally unknown. We are more than Sunday morning. We have a Morning Prayer/Eucharist on Tuesday mornings and Evening Prayer, a Healing Eucharist and Bible Study on Thursday evenings. We try to offer a full expression of Anglican worship and these services are increasingly popular. Education. Our newcomers are theologically and scripturally knowledgeable and want to dig deep. For a month during the Sunday morning education hour I let the newcomers ask me any question. This was very engaging and the regular members that attended were quite impressed with the quality and rigor of the questions.
In summary, there is a hunger among some young people for a deeper expression in worship that our tradition supplies, they just don’t know we have it. Philip said to Nathaniel “Come and see”; if we can be like Philip and do likewise, we and they will be blessed.
Fr. Mark Evans is the Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Lincoln