Sunday, February 28, 2010

Teach our children well

My wife and I are learning from friends and family as they prepare their children for college. At our parish, the eldest member of the youth group is a high school senior and now waiting to hear back from a variety of Ivy League and comparable schools in the Northeast and California.

This prompted me to think: what will happen to our Anglican youth when they go off to college? As a parent, I’ve been thinking about Sunday School and youth group. Even before we were parents, we thought about what will happen to our children as teens, facing peer pressure, teen rebellion, hormones, etc. Since then, our church search has considered both aspects of Christian formation for ages of 0-18 — more recently, supplanting other concerns like music or liturgy.

However, my college thinking has been strictly about academic issues (college prep, AP, SAT, etc.) and not spiritual ones. This oversight seems particularly odd, given that I personally fell away from church in college — attending once in 4 years of college — and did not return until years later as an adult. Even worse, today’s mainline Protestant campus ministries focus on social justice and conforming to the culture, rather than traditional liturgy and doctrine.

So at church this morning, talking about college with our youth group member and a visiting diocesan dignitary, I realized that keeping even the most devout Anglican youth in the faith might be a serious obstacle. Anglican churches (Schism I or Schism II) seem to be in suburbia, which is good for educated professionals (with or without kids) but not for 18-year-olds going to college in a city or small college town.

Start with Harvard, the oldest American college (1636) which was led by Purtian ministers throughout the 17th century. Harvard Divinity School has turned out many Episcopal clergy over the decades, but (as noted in The Search for God at Harvard) Christian belief now seems to be but a distant memory among many of the faculty.

According to the ACNA parish locator page, it has a parish about 3 miles from Harvard in Medford, but the mass transit option would take 55 minutes one way. The church in Waltham is 5 miles and 45 minutes away.

There is no official Schism I website for all the fragmented alphabet soup options, but (at least until ACNA was formed) the best site was Among the Massachusetts parishes, it lists one church in Boston and 3 in the 021xx zip code (near-in suburbs). Easiest to reach is the ACC parish meeting in the Boston YMCA chapel and the Malden parish is 40 minutes by subway (the best option in Boston). SitS also shows an AMiA (ACNA) parish 45 minutes away on the subway, and an Anglican Use Roman Catholic parish a single bus away (45 minutes) in Brookline.

At Stanford (which once sold T-shirts “Harvard is the Stanford of the East”), the options are slightly better. Saint Ann Chapel — the former Stanford Newman Center for Catholic ministry that is now an Anglo-Catholic parish owned by the Schism I APCK — is only 2 miles away, an easy bike ride and reasonable walk. If you have a car — like most Californians — ACNA lists St. Luke’s Chapel in the Hills as an easy 5 mile drive. The APCK also has a parish walking distance to UC Berkeley (its seminary).

In the LA area, the options aren’t quite as good. Yes, at students at UC Irvine are near St. James, Newport Beach — lead defendant among the California cases within the TEC vs. Continuing Anglicans property fight. But there’s nothing (either in SitS or ACNA) on the West Side of Los Angeles, near UCLA. There are many parishes in driving distance — such as the historic Hollywood Anglo-Catholic parish Saint Mary of the Angels — but as in Boston, the mass transit options aren’t very attractive.

The same applies for youth attending other elite colleges, like UCSD or the Claremont Colleges (Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pomona, etc.) The answer is going to be driving — in the case of Claremont, 25 miles to Riverside.

The Church of England, Episcopal Church of the United States, and now the various Continuing Anglican groups have been part of America’s intellectual elite since the country was first founded. While academia has become very secular and progressive — far more hostile to traditional Christian faith than 50 or 100 years ago — in my experience, the Continuing Anglicans are every bit as educated and thoughtful as the ECUSA parish leaders I knew as a kid.

Therefore, I suspect most of us will expect our kids to go to college, often to elite schools in culturally hostile locations in the “blue” states. We Continuing Anglicans in suburbia need to think about how sending our children away to college will support (or potentially undermine) their faith.

To me, the conclusion is pretty clear: if we want to keep our children as they become young adults, we need more parishes near college campuses (and eventually campus ministries). Since the Schism I churches seem to be in maintenance mode, let’s hope that the ACNA’s plan to plant 1000 parishes will include dozens if not hundreds of parishes aimed at the college demographic. Who knows, maybe we can pick up (or keep) a few college professors while we’re at it.