A Young Adult Volunteer working this year with a youth group at a church in Dundee, Scotland, sees parallels between an aging Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — with both churches having an opportunity to pivot in order to appeal more broadly to people of all ages.
“Anything we do, it’s not going to work forever,” Victoria Alexander, who calls Greensboro, North Carolina home when not stationed abroad serving a YAV year in the cradle of Presbyterianism, said on the most recent edition of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast,” which can be heard here.
To help the youth she serves make faith more relevant, Alexander hit upon a service project they can do that works both to feed people and to reduce the impacts of climate change: the youth are reducing food waste by running a larder for the community. “We get food from stores and businesses that would be thrown out otherwise,” Alexander explained to A Matter of Faith hosts Simon Doong and the Rev. Lee Catoe. “We are able to get the food out to people almost immediately so they can use it before the sell-by date.”
The declining membership Alexander and others are seeing in the Church of Scotland “is what the PC(USA) could look like in a couple of decades if we don’t change the way we do things,” Alexander said. “I one hundred percent respect tradition and I know that holds a place in our church, but I also think we have the opportunity to create new traditions. We have so many capable, powerful, enthusiastic young people in our church that we can really tap into.”
“Just ask them, ‘What matters to you? Where do you see God in this work?’” Alexander said. “For some people, sitting in a church pew for an hour on Sunday, that’s not active faith to them. It’s not being the hands and feet of God. Don’t get me wrong: I need my Sunday sermons. They give me food for thought, and all week I’m chewing it over in my head,” Alexander told Catoe and Doong. But “I need to be active in my faith and not sitting in church for an hour and saying, ‘That’s my religion for the week. Great job, everyone! See you next Sunday.’”
“Thinking about taking our faith outside the church and having our faith be active during the week is an exciting prospect … It won’t mean trying something just once. You’ve got to give it a solid try … before deciding it’s not for me — and it may not be, and that’s fine. I think that if churches can diversify the ways that they worship, that’s really important.”
This spring, Alexander was an online participant and part of the PC(USA)’s delegation to the 66th Commission on the Status of Women, which focused on gender equity and the empowerment of women and girls in the context of climate change. “One day I was on a Zoom with worldwide Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which had women even younger than I am and alums talking about the work they do. The next day you’re on another Zoom and a member of Canada’s Parliament is in the little Zoom box net to you,” Alexander said. “I thought, maybe I should change my sweatshirt.”
“We were talking about huge, intimidating topics. You feel like, how are we ever going to fix this?” Alexander said. “And then you look at your computer screen and you see 400 people from so many different countries, so many different faiths, so many different ages. There’s someone there in all those different organizations, I guarantee you, who’s already working on the problem.”
From the very start of the two weeks of CSW, Alexander said, “the PC(USA) delegation welcomed me with open arms. They were so excited, so encouraging, and it wasn’t performative at all … I felt like they truly valued the voices of young people in our church.”
During one talk, Alexander heard a speaker say church leaders have two specific powers: the power of convincing and the power of convening.
Church leaders “have a voice of authority. The church is one of the few intergenerational institutions we have left in the country,” Alexander said. “It gave me an appreciation for the role faith leaders can play … God has brought us together for a reason. Also, God has given us the tools we need to address these crises — whether it’s Covid, racial justice, economic justice — we have the tools to address all these every day.”
“Every church member has their own little passion projects that they love, and that’s wonderful,” Alexander said. “It’s one of the strengths of the church. We all have this commonality where we believe in God. I think if we start there and then we work through that to address all these other issues, we’re unstoppable.”
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service