At the recent World Council of Churches Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany, real effort was made to have significant youth representation. And the youth voice was loud and strident, especially around the need for Christian action on the issue of climate emergency. They spoke out for the children of the world who will inherit a world that the older generations shape and form by the things they decide and the way they live.
This was an inspiring, timely and relevant message because:
• Half of the world’s population is under 30 or younger.
• By 2030 this will rise to 57% and the decisions the older generations make now will hugely impact their future lives.
• In the Western world, younger generations have experienced an alarming increase in levels of anxiety through the COVID pandemic.
• Children and youth are largely missing from our churches.
• The scriptures are clear in the call to connect life-giving faith with the children, nowhere more so than Deuteronomy 6 which calls us to impress God’s loving commandments on our children, “to talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up”.
In response to this need to connect with the young, Pope John Paul II in 1985 instigated an event called World Youth Day (WYD). Sometimes nicknamed in later years as the ‘Catholic Woodstock’ it has proven incredibly effective! The 1995, the World Youth Day closing Mass in the Philippines set a world record for the largest number of people gathered for a single religious event with 5 million attendees. A wonderfully successful response to the need to connect with our young.
In a similar way in 1954 the UN instigated World Children’s Day. It is celebrated on 20 November and the theme this year is ‘Inclusion, for every child’.
What can we do in our local churches?
• Listen to the UN messaging for 2022 that seeks to amplify the message that action is needed across all generations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and leave no one behind. The catch cry ‘Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a World for All Ages’ is so in tune with my Moderator theme of Empowering Generations.
• Look for ways to empower voices, ideas, and opinions of children in our churches.
• Orientate our way of being church to the younger generations.
This week I was lamenting to our PCANZ Mission Resource Team about a recent combined service of five local churches that I was part of organising. While the numbers were great and the service was inspirational, and ‘a good time was had by all’, there were only five children present! Rev Robin Humphreys, Director, PCANZ Children and Families Ministry, brought me up with a start when she asked me if the service was orientated to families, youth and children. Absolutely not I thought! We get what we aim for. Maybe it is well past time to adjust our aim.
Right Rev Hamish Galloway
Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand