Monday, July 2, 2018

Age Matters But Not Like That


“David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for forty years.”

In 2 Samuel 5, we read the story of the second anointing of David as king. The first was our Old Testament lesson a few Sundays ago, and it took place in private, in Jesse’s house, out of sight because of the threat of Saul’s jealousy. This Sunday, we read the story of Jesus’ public acclimation as king. Of course, it didn’t start in 2 Samuel 5. By this point, the boy who slayed Goliath had been a leader of God’s people for years. God had chosen him back when he was only a shepherd boy. The Holy Spirit came upon him when he was a kid, and he was led by God to do powerful things from an early age. But it took him until he was thirty before the people of God were ready to officially acknowledge what they already knew.

I haven’t spent much time this year blogging about General Convention. Partly, that’s because this year doesn’t seem to hold the same level of urgent controversy that recent Conventions have held. There’s no election of a Presiding Bishop. We’re not considering same-sex marriage for the first time. There isn’t a groundswell movement to restructure The Episcopal Church. (Actually, each of those things, in one way or another, is an active issue at this Convention—the role of the Presiding Officers, whether to add gender-neutral language to the marriage rite as contained in the prayer book, what funding for the Church’s mission will look like over the next three, six, or even twelve years.)

Plus, I’ve been a little busier than usual saying goodbye to a parish, preparing to greet a new one, trying to get a house ready to sell, and helping my family prepare for the move. Yesterday was my last Sunday at St. John's, and today feels strange. The last few weeks have been a full-on sprint to make it through the saying goodbye. After a full Sunday morning and a beautiful send-off reception, I changed into work clothes, went to Lowe's, and continued the work of painting, cleaning, and straightening that are required to sell a house. I went to bed in the wee hours of the morning, and then I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to leave for Austin. And, now that I'm here, it's time to focus on Convention.

When it comes to General Convention, age matters. At Convention, the legislative officers will be the youngest group ever to serve in that capacity. Among those officers, 45% are under the age of 50. That's pretty significant considering that deputies in positions of leadership usually collect General Convention pins as if they were trophies. There are deputies who have served for 10, 11, 12 different Conventions, representing more than three decades of having a seat at the table for each one. Although I am about to move to a diocese where I have earned no status, I can attest that once one is elected a deputy, one is far more likely to be elected again. Leadership typically perpetuates itself. Historically it has been hard to break in as a young deputy, but Gay Jennings and other leaders in the House of Deputies have worked hard to change that.

Because of that shift to empower younger leaders, which has been taking place for several triennia, I perceive that a generational power struggle is moving more and more from the background into the foreground. I don't have data to back it up, but I perceive that older generations of deputies (Baby Boomers and older) are more likely to advocate for complete prayer book revision than younger generations (Gen-Xers and Millennials). Perhaps counter-intuitively, I think younger deputies are more attached to traditional expression of orthodoxy (e.g. catechesis, baptismal ecclesiology, creedal doctrine, and traditional marital fidelity) than older deputies. Last time, it was a groundswell of younger deputies who interrupted the effort to enshrine Great Cloud of Witnesses as the official sanctoral calendar of the church because it was not clearly grounded in a theology of Christian sainthood.

That's not to say that younger deputies are traditionalists in the typical liberal-conservative divide. Younger deputies are as committed to marriage equality and gender equality as older deputies, but I find that they approach the question from a different perspective--with an explicitly historical, biblical, and ecumenical foundation. I could be wrong, and I am certainly biased, but I think questions about access to Communion, marriage, prayer book revision, evangelism, structure, and budget will expose these differences.

Why do I think that? Some of the clergy colleague groups I participate in repeatedly express this generational divide as foundational to their experience of the church. It's too simple to say it's all about age. There are plenty of young deputies who are eager to throw out the '79 prayer book, and there are plenty of older deputies who think that's a terrible idea. But I've experienced my own share of age-based discrimination. It happens less often these days, but my first several years as the rector of a church were filled with comments about how young I was and how surprising it was that I knew what I was doing. Over and over, I've heard older clergy speak of younger clergy as if we were some monolithic demographic who all want U2-charists and centering prayer workshops. That's not at all what I want. What I want--and what I think others in my generation want--is a healthy balance of historical and contextual authenticity.

As we prepare to begin our meetings this evening, I am thankful for the story of David. It reminds me that, as the people of God, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit regardless of our age. It reminds me that sometimes it takes the church a generation before the gifts and contributions of younger leaders is accepted. It reminds me that those gifts and contributions may go unappreciated or uncelebrated for a long time, but that doesn't diminish their value. We'll see what unfolds over the next two weeks. I'll have an eye out for the different generational perspectives, and I'll share what I see here. Again, this is my perspective, and it's full of bias, but it's a bias I seem to share with other colleagues my age. Let's see what shows up in Austin.

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