Much has been written about the exodus of our youth from the Church. What I have to say today is not new information, but it connects to today’s Gospel lesson, so it might hit home differently. According to studies, as many as 60-80% of youth are leaving the Church permanently, and it is our job as parents, priests, mentors, parish council members, teachers, etc. to do what we can to change this pattern. The first step is we must acknowledge that what we have been doing hasn’t worked.
This isn’t a judgment of our intention, but merely an assessment of the result. We built up youth programs such as HOPE, JOY, GOYA, YAL, Basketball, Dance, Greek School, Sunday School, Scouts, special summer camps, retreats. You name it, we’ve tried it, and still our youth are leaving….all except for the 40% who have stayed. What was the difference?
The youth that have remained in Church have done so mainly because their entire family has always made being in Church (and I mean in THE Church) a priority every week. They may have attended some or all our programs, but so did the many others who left. Come Sunday morning and for the main feasts, their entire family was in Church. When it came time for Holy Communion, the entire family approached the chalice and received. Their family lived, as Orthodox Christians are called to do, in Communion with God.
The truth is, eventually we all age out of the programs. If nothing has taught us to love being IN Church, we will fade away when that day comes, or the programs come to an end due to funding or other outside circumstances. Unless our parents made being IN Church a priority in their lives, it will not be a priority in our lives. If we look at our parents and witness excuse after excuse for not being in Church, you can pretty much bet their children will eventually leave the Church. As we all know, children do what they see their parents doing, not what their parents say. Parents not attending Church = children not attending Church, not matter the amount of urging from parents.
In today’s Gospel (you can read the entire passage below) Christ says, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise.” Of course Jesus isn’t speaking about basketball and GOYA, but reading those words hit me today. Jesus lives as the Father lives, and our children will live as we live. So…….if you want to keep you children in the Church, SHOW them a life IN the Church. SHOW them that attending Divine Liturgy every Sunday is more important than a morning cup of coffee and watching sports. SHOW them that prayer and fasting is important enough to impact life choices. SHOW them that taking care of the poor is a joy rather than a burden. SHOW them YOU love living the faith, and they will love living the faith. See….nothing new. We all knew this reality of life. Now together let’s Live A New Life In Christ, and keep our youth!
The Lord said to the Jews who came to him: "My Father is working still, and I am working." This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God. Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these he will show him, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." – John 5.17-24