I was in church Maundy Thursday. Nestled into a pew as my 5 year old daughter drove her transformer toys all over the hymnbooks and caused general mayhem before the program started. I was in church on Maundy Thursday but not for worship. I sat in the Anglican Church on the University of British Columbia campus waiting for the performance of my 13 year old daughter and others who had participated all week in a UBC drama camp. Now, the camp simply rented space at the local Anglican church – nothing more, nothing less. And as I waited for the performance to begin I did what I usually do in public spaces, I eavesdropped shamelessly.
The family in the pew behind me, eager to see their own daughter/granddaughter perform, shared this little gem of a conversation with me:
Boomer Grandfather (roughly late 60s): “Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t get hit by lightening coming into this place. (his wife cackles loudly) Who knows, maybe I’ll still burst into flames at some point…”
Adult Gen X Daughter (mid 40s) in a more reflective tone: “Dad, didn’t we used to go to church like at Christmas and Easter and stuff? I seem to remember being in a church like this when I was little – is that right?”
Boomer Grandfather: “Well, yeah, that was a long time ago and I can’t remember the last time I was in a church. Most of us figured out you don’t need to come to a place like this to be a good person.”
Adult Gen X Daughter: “Well Dad, do you know what your granddaughter said when I dropped her off here at camp on the first day? She said, “Mum, what is this place? I’ve never been inside a place like this before? What do they do here?” The woman paused and continued in a quieter voice, “It was weird – I didn’t know what to say. And I felt ashamed.”
This fascinating cross-generational witness of the end of Christendom was interrupted by the millennial aged drama camp instructor who welcomed us to the performance and noted (in usual west coast fashion) that we were meeting on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musquem peoples. No word was given that we were also meeting in a space of Christian worship.
I left the lovely drama performance wondering how we as Christians might speak about the empty cross and empty tomb this weekend to the multiple generations I encountered in that space:
Boomers – so many of whom walked from the church and retain only a disfigured Sunday School memory of Christian faith
Gen Xers – the first generation “raised without religion” according to Vancouver author Douglas Copeland, and yet many of us in this generation retain some structural memory of Christendom through school and society
Millennials – raised with more secular and civic religion beliefs like environmentalism and respect for ancient cultures (Indigenous, etc) – all good of course – but tricky to witness to with no Christian memory
Generation Y – even further along the secularity path, now open to hear about Christianity without the baggage that their Boomer grandparents often attach to the faith.
How might those of us whose lives have been marked, blessed and changed for good by the gospel of Jesus Christ speak and act this weekend to bear witness to the One whose selfless death and spectacular resurrection adopted us into the inner life of God: Father, Son and Spirit?
Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall and teaches at The Vancouver School of Theology.