by Michael Hempseed
A few years ago I went along to a Church meeting in England. It was basically a How-to-Fix-the-
Church meeting.
The topic of why there were no young people at Mass came up. They spent 45 minutes arguing about why there were no young people there. Various people insisted it was “because the music is dreadful,” or “we would have young people if we had a Latin Mass,” and others thought that “We need to have fewer rules”.
I was the youngest person in the room by about 40 years. They spent 45 minutes debating the topic and not one person asked me what I thought! Since I was denied my chance to speak then,
here is my answer now.
I want a church that acknowledges that I exist. I am a youth worker and I meet young people from many different Christian denominations. I try always to ask them why they go to a particular
Church. They usually don’t say it’s the music or even the preaching. The most common reason they give me is, “They’re really friendly”.
All the findings from brain research over the last 20 years tell us that we are basically hardwired for social interaction. We need it.
I’ve been to hundreds of churches all over the world. In most I walk in and walk out and no one acknowledges that I’m there. I went to a Catholic church in England, near St Albans. As soon as I
walked in someone introduced themselves to me, asked me a little about myself and took the time to get to know me. I don’t remember every church I’ve been into, but I remember that one vividly.
I want a church that supports me rather than criticises me. Over the years I’ve run a fair few events in the church. For many I haven’t even had a chance to fail before I start receiving complaints!
One event I ran I received a huge number of complaints. They didn’t ask me whether I had done it correctly; they assumed I was going to do it wrong! People told me to focus on what God wants me to do, but it’s almost impossible not to feel demoralised when this happens.
In many cases this is down to the fact that many adults think young people can’t be trusted.
In 1 Timothy 4:12, St Paul says to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young”. Some Protestant churches are filled with former Catholics because they give them chances and opportunities and support them. Roger Stone said: “No one ever built a statue to a committee.” Or subcommittee for that matter! It can also be said no one ever built a statue
to those who criticise. Ask yourself this: how many times you email or speak to someone in the church, how many of those are affirming or how many are critical?
I want a church that is not torn apart by internal arguments. In most churches you find a strong division between the modern music division and the traditional music division, or whatever divisions a particular church may have. It’s one thing to disagree with your brother or sister in Christ. It’s another thing to outright hate them and avoid them. Enough said.
I want a church that does not sweep mistakes under the rug. In Matthew 18:15 Christ says: “If your brother sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” He is not saying
don’t acknowledge it and forgive. In the sacrament of Reconciliation we believe that we need to say sorry to be forgiven.
I want a Church where forgiveness is not used as an excuse to cover up or continue unloving behaviour.
I want a church that is uplifting and filled with joy! Yes, suffering is part of the Christian life; everyone suffers but most do so mournfully. St Francis of Assisi suffered greatly, yet he always had a tremendous joy. The Greek word for joy is chara. This comes from the Greek word charis, which means grace.
Christians should be joyful because we have the grace of God in our lives. Pope Francis spoke of this in his letter to the whole Church, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel.
People often confuse the words solemn and sorrowful; they are as different as abundance and starvation. I want a church that shows the full joy of the Gospel, one where I walk away feeling
uplifted and joyful.
You might say this is just what I want. Yes it is, but don’t I have a right to have my voice heard and, I suspect, thousands of other young people will feel the same way.
Michael Hempseed works part time helping young people who are struggling in life; he regularly talks to different groups about mental illness and how to manage it. He also runs his own human resources company.

1 COMMENT

  1. A valuable contribution to NZ Catholic.
    Although Michael wants “a church that is not torn apart by internal arguments”, it seems that he’s alluding to such as the choice of music. Certainly, when serious liturgical abuses or teaching of heresy arise in the Church they must be dealt with, and that will produce “internal arguments”.
    Importantly, Michael indicates that the young want “a Church where forgiveness is not used as an excuse to cover up or continue unloving behaviour”. I’m assuming that Michael is indicating sinful behaviour.
    He upholds Matthew 18:15-17. Amen to that.
    As for our parish churches being unfriendly to the young, I’ve never observed that.
    My perception of why so few youth attend Sunday Mass and don’t participate in parish life is that their schools and their parents have failed them. The bishops’ statement earlier this year, The Catholic Education of School Age Children, acknowledges the failure of our schools.

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