RUMBLINGS FROM THE CAVERN
It seems almost indecent of a “youth event” to have a Silver Jubilee, but while the Church of England was enjoying the exposure assured it by the Nine O’clock Service, the rest of us were celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Isle of Wight rock festival. It was – weren’t they all? – a show to end all shows; and certainly it did bring some things to an end. Shortly afterwards two of its star performers, JimI Hendrix and Jim Morrison, passed to their respective Valhallas. Drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll were never the same again.
Perhaps some of the forty-somethings who seem to have made up the greater part of the NOS congregation were there on the island with the rest of them, twenty-something years ago, smoking the illegal substances and wallowing in the chemical lavatories. Perhaps their extra-ordinary enthusiasm for being “roadies” to someone else’s show (to spend a hundred hours putting together a single act of worship would have been considered an unhealthy obsession with liturgy by those who prepared me for ordination) was born in that now unrepeatable environment where strobe lights, electric guitars and amplification were thought to be mysteriously connected with the salvation of planet earth.
The irrationality which surrounds “youth culture” would be incredible if it were not so pervasive. Young people are, in the cant phrases of the time, “saying something to our whole society”; they have “important insights”; increasingly in recent years, they show “heightened ecological awareness”. And the rag, tag and bobtail of youth culture attracts an extensive camp-following; the determined band of those who are prolonging adolescence beyond previously established norms. They write slender volumes on the Gnostic scriptures, read Matthew Fox, and take David Icke more seriously than he deserves.
Like the Decade of Evangelism (which has apparently sunk without trace) “youth evangelism” is an article of faith for establishment Anglicans. Those who engage in it are invariably called “courageous” and “imaginative”. They are the Boys (and they know it) who will eventually get the Jobs. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury, it emerges, has an Adviser on Youth Evangelism.
Whilst it would obviously be foolish to deny Dr Carey any advice he can get, the existence of such a post raises wider questions. Put quite simply, does “youth” deserve all the ecclesiastical attention that it gets; and are “alternative worship styles” aimed ostensibly at the young, either reasonable or desirable?
The thing is best considered in the light of other contemporary liturgical trends. Take inclusive language as a case in point. David Martin (the Australian linguist, not the English sociologist) pointed out in his letter of resignation to the Australian Liturgical Commission what a nonsense was being perpetrated. From Cranmer to the eighties, the underlying motive of Anglican liturgical reform had been accessibility. Here for the first time was a self-conscious attempt to couch worship in the argot of a political sub-group. Its adoption would render the particular opinions of that group the defining characteristics of the Church.
Something similar is happening when worship is assimilated to the cultural forms of a sub-group. Those forms do not come value free. It is hard to sing of chastity and fidelity with the thumping bass turned up to maximum; and the thumping bass will always drown out the Canto Gregoriano, however high up they are in the charts.
Of course the truth is that all those who want to use the language of a sub-group for the worship of the Church have a clear ulterior motive. The inclusivists want a change of doctrine – in C.S. Lewis’s prophetic words, they want to declare all the patriarchal language of the scriptures either not inspired or not significant. The youth culturists want a change in ethics – they want to move from the prescriptive to the experiential, from prayerful self-examination to guilt-free spontaneity.
Wholly disingenuously the “young” are portrayed as demanding the very adjustments which these protagonists want. The young are, after all, as the parent of any thirteen-year old will assure you, dedicated followers of fashion and agile jumpers onto bandwagons. Better still, there is scarcely a sixty-something left who is not prepared to humour them on the fatuously tautological principle that “they are our future”.
Geoffrey Kirk is Vicar of St Stephen’s, Lewisham in the diocese of Southwark