Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Spirituality of Generation Y

The London Institute for Contemporay Christianity held a day today on the Spirituality of Generation Y featuring research from Phil Rankin, Buried Spirituality and Bob Mayo and Sylvie Mayo-Collins, The Spirituality of Generation Y and the Nazareth Project which is beginning research with Christian youth groups.

It was a challenging morning of quite a lot of BIG WORD stuff and also some reflection on the implication for practice.

Ian has a good summary and will no doubt have some more.

For me the key stuff was as follows:

Young people who took part in the research exhibited a common set of responses to various media which were summarised as Happy midi-narrative: A sense that the world is good as it is with no deeper meaning and that individuals can and should be happy. The flipside of course being that a failure to be HAPPY means a failure on the part of the young person with all too familiar consequences of self-harm, depression etc.

Young people, according to Phil Rankin's research think Church is S**t (this I think may well reflect a reluctance to talk about it rather than an opinion on its nature) and also equate tree-hugging, Christianity and Islam as essentially the same.

Tim Sudworth highlighted that some projects are aware of working with thrid generation non-church young people who are not ANTI church - they have no experience of it to be hostile to it which is of course an opportunity. The other good news from Tim was that the projects which have shown fruit were those which were long-lasting (hurrah for those of us in their fourth year!)

Tim and others suggested that schools work might, rather than helping youth work, in fact be part of the negative influence on young people about church. OUr table discussed this and reflected that many of us preferred a kind of CHAPLAINCY and pastoral role in educational institutions rather than an educative role.

Bob Mayo presented some evidence that, ontrary to popular belief, young people are not part of a spiritual revolution; there is no great number of young people who are "spiritual but not religious". There is however a curious phenomenon of young people praying even though some of them also state they don't believe in God. Bob's reflection on this was the need to turn the private prayer life of young people (which he viewed as formative spirituality) to a public one (which could be transformative). Young people see God as someone who is there when no-one else is. They pray to feel better and seek comfort either when they've done wrong or when they're in difficulty. This lacks any kind of penitential impetus and doesn't CHANGE the young people. He said it was important for us to work towards co-ordinating the WHERE, WHEN and WITH WHOM of public prayer for young people.

He emphasised that PLACE was important as was SPACE - Place being the geographical location and Space being how it feels. He said we should shift our focus from what we do to where we do it. He spoke particularly from the perspective of the Evangelical church but acknowledged that more traditional models of church do have a focus on PLACE using the evidence of the importance of context for young people shown by the reflections of young people interviewed by Spirituality of Generation Y (young people listened to music and in discussions almost always reflected on what the music reminded them of not about the music itslef). As Bob said, "context needs interpreting and also shapes the interpretation." He said, using the churches as shrines could be significant.

Phil Rankin also talked about the importance of context (his research varied a lot to do with context - interviewing young people in a school and young people on a street corner was fundamentally different). He emphasised young people's lack of awareness of their need to God but this should not be confused with a lack of NEED.

His research sometimes made it socially acceptable for people to talk about spiritual things. Perhaps this could be something youth workers do or as he would advocate encourage others to do.

The Nazareth Project highlighted that there is still a BLACK HOLE between the formative and transformative spiritualities.

Ok these are vague notes and the stuff from panel was even more vague.

I had two great quotations:
the church should be "a place of questions not a place of answers"

Someone also spoke of alternative worship as bringin the private prayer INTO the public space by making public spaces which evoked the private space.

Si Jones of Ignite, spoke about fresh expressions and his church saying
"we're not talking about a fresh expression of church, we're talking about a proper expression of church" - this made me think... when is the more true CHURCH - when we share bread and wine or when we chat over a coffee/pint afterwards?

Rachel from the Romance Academy stressed the fact that place is important and that meeting them where they are may NOT be the best way because tkaing them out of their comfort zone can be more effective in challenging them and taking them to new explorations of their faith.

and my own reflections on it:

Can we trully ever talk about young people as a whole having a world view? I think it's useful research but can it really be applied universally? I remember studying world views when I was translating Latin Saints Lives from the Merovingian period (it's something the Annales school of historians did a lot) and constructing what the world view was proved very difficult and then making links between world views was just as complex. It's a good thing to do but I think for the time it takes it can often end up telling you what your instincts already told you.

From what the researchers said I got the feeling that the role for youth workers lies with empowering young people to grow their spiritual and emotional intelligence so that they can interpret their own existential questions more successfully. Young people may not perceive themselves as having a God-shaped-hole but in each of God's children is the yearning for the Father and for the home that he has for us, whether we are aware of it or not.

A lot of what was said also pointed to a need to really work out WHY we are doing what we're doing with young people. The need for a THEOLOGY of our youth ministry as the determinate of our action was clear.

For me the idea of PLACE and SPACE really rang true with our Chillout worship for young people, our new contemplative service for adults (Cuthbert's Isle this Sunday 8pm!) and the way our church is OPEN each day.

One of the people on our table highlighted the possibility that in seeking TRANSFORMATIVE spirituality we might be pushing a CONFORMATIVE spirituality on young people.


MarkB said...

Said this on Youthblog too... but as a counterpoint it is well worth reading Ben Edson's critique of Bob and Sylvies research.

Sarah Brush said...

thanks for the tip, Mark. I'd be interested to read someone taking the other side.

Phil Goodacre said...

posted some thoughts on transformative/formative spirituality on ian's blog.

re: meeting them where they're at/taking them out of there comfort zone. sounds a bit like semantics.....
richard passmores book - meeting them where they're at - which i guess has popularized that phrase, certainly does not ignore the need for young people to be challenged (imho).

i agree that young people need to be challenged, and taken out of their comfort zone, but how do we do this if we don't first meet them, where they are?

maybe i'm just getting too bogged down in semantics as well. maybe i'm just jealous of the fact i couldn't go to this knees-up today.

Pete Lev said...

Thanks Sarah - helpful reflections. I missed the day, but totally agree with the danger of applying this kind of research universally - I think many youthworkers know their young people's spirituality through relationship rather than academic research!

Mel said...

Thank you- some of the stuff in this post has helped me to put into words what I've been feeling of late, especially the stuff about bringing private prayer into the public- so much more powerful when people have stuff to bring to God as well as there being something to take away. I think that Xp and Taize both do this. Also agree that 'church should be a place of questions and not answers'.

Sally said...

interesting reflections Sarah- we conducted some survey work amongst year 9 R.E. classes a couple of weeks ago- they were voicing a deffinite spirituality but more akin to paganism than Christianity- though it had bits mixed in...
Like Mark I would reccomend reading Ben Edsons critique of this research!