One of the things I have loved about my church has been the Choral Scholars we employ at our 11:15 am service on Sundays. The eight singers are college students from William & Mary. They come from all sorts of backgrounds – some grew up singing in their hometown Episcopal Churches, some are Southern Baptists, and a few have even been Jewish. I have always enjoyed watching their journey through college, but I especially became appreciative of that relationship when this pandemic shut down our church. Two Choral Scholars immediately became part of our four-person team livestreaming services every week, helping keep music at the center of our digital worship.
I was not sure what to expect, however, once the semester was over in June. We managed to recruit two other students: one, an out-of-state college student who grew up in our church and is home for the summer, and another who is also from William & Mary, but has never sung with our Scholars. As each week has passed, I have slowly learned about their faith journeys and experiences. And this Sunday, when our Music Director was on vacation, the substitute she procured is an organ student from William & Mary who sings at another local church during the school year, and who led a choral evensong with a campus group at our church last year.
As we sang and played together on Sunday, I had an epiphany. I realized I was the oldest person in the room by several years. After years and years of talking about the so-called decline of the mainline church, hearing myriad, often contradictory, reasons why the next generation is not coming to church (for more about this topic, check out this video by Dean Ian Markham), here I was a part of a worship leadership team primarily led by people in their very early twenties. And they were not just playing supporting roles, like greeting people at the door or handing out bulletins. They were in charge of the entire musical offering. They were equals in leadership, and they were doing it with confidence and beauty.
In a few months, one of the high school students I mentored in my curacy will be ordained a priest. Listening to her hopes for the ways the Episcopal Church can speak afresh to this world, wondering about the future lay leadership of our pre-med summer singer, and imagining the bi-vocational life our substitute organist who hopes to play on Sundays after college graduation while having a weekday career, gives me hope for the future of our Church. Yes, our Church will continue to evolve and change, living online, living in cafes and bars, living in soup kitchens and childcare centers – but living and thriving. Our Episcopal liturgies, our openness to the intellect, and our graceful blessing of all walks of life are the things that attract the young (and more seasoned!) people who are leading us today, and they are the strengths that give me hope for the Church of the future. I have often resisted the doom and gloom of the predictions of the decline of the Church, but have been unsure how to legitimize my hunch. This week I am grateful for the young people in my life who have given me some language and some confidence that Jesus is not done with us yet. I hope you can feel that hope today too.