Vol. 2 No. 2 - Pentecost 2007
Scrambling the Ghetto
Keeping the Kids
"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things," - 1 Cor. 13:11
Much attention is given in Orthodox parishes to the need for ministry to young people. For some, part of this desire is born out of a general decline in youth attendance, often mixed with pious jealousy at the perceived strengths of the youth groups in evangelical Protestant churches. Shamed by the neighbours, many Orthodox fall pray to the temptation to try to offer a peculiar blend of Canadian-style social activities in order to preserve a youth cluster in an ethnic ghetto - and in the process, come up with absolutely zero from a spiritual perspective.
Within individual parishes, the common ground often has little to do with faith: youth in particular come from homes with radically different levels of piety and radically different ideas of what the Church means to their lives. It becomes very easy within a parish for youth (and adults, as well) to concentrate on simpler things they have in common, and in most cases in Canada, this means culture.
The problem arises when, almost inevitably, young people decide they want to fit in with the Canadian youth mainstream: no more baba or spanakopita or dancing or Heritage Language class on Thursday night. All that was fine when I was eight years old; now I will live like a Canadian, pray like a Canadian (i.e. not at all), and marry someone who shall deliver me from the ethnic ghetto. I will have arrived - this is the Canadian dream, yes?
As Orthodox in Canada, we fool ourselves when we believe that better dance classes, Heritage Language classes, and cultural history will save the faith of our kids: they will not. What will make a giant difference is doing everything we can, from an early age, to build friendships between Orthodox Christian children and youth.
By necessity, this can only take place in an environment in which students cannot fall back into their cultural communities - at least, for a little while. It requires regular, perhaps weekly, gatherings of Orthodox young people from all backgrounds, to concentrate on the prayers of the Church, and offering the answers the Faith gives to the pressing questions young people have: friendship, romance, sex, the media, technology, music, abortion, homosexuality, advertising, and politics, to name a few things. It also requires faithful people who know and live Orthodox lives, who do not make up answers on the spot to serious questions of faith, but who know the mind of the Church Fathers, who speak loudly on all these questions.
Ninety percent of Orthodox youth in Canada marry someone from a background outside the Orthodox Faith (Serbs are the notable exception, for the time being). If Orthodox faithful actually believe their own dreams that a younger generation will gradually take up bearing the torch in caring for their parishes and the Orthodox Faith, they must summon up the courage to do what it takes to allow their children and grandchildren to build solid, ongoing friendships based on our common Faith which endures, unto ages of ages. For their sake, we must all grow up.
If and when the nationalist songs fade, the dances are forgotten, and the faith of our Orthodox grandchildren survive, we will at least then have some hope of hearing the Lord say, "Well done, good and faithful servant".
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Pentecost, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.