Friday, May 25, 2007

Youth Ministry

At the Episcopal Church's General Convention last June, the deputation from the Diocese of San Joaquin was assigned seating next to the deputation from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. For endless hours of plenary sessions I sat behind an amiable young priest from that somewhat remote diocese, and subjected him to my running cynical commentary on the often mind-numbing proceedings of the House of Deputies. He took it all in good humor and leaned back in his chair several times so we could trade observations that were usually catty and sometimes substantive.

I remember thinking to myself, "He looks a little wet behind the ears (I guessed late twenties) to even be ordained, let alone be elected as a convention deputy, so he must have a lot on the ball."

Last Saturday he was elected Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania. Sean Rowe is 32. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2001. (WARNING: Narcissistic remarks to follow.) When I began the parochial work I am on the verge of concluding, he was a nineteen-year old college student. When I began my ordained ministry at the (apparently ripe old) age of 37, he was barely in high school. My God, the lad is only a year older than my own older daughter!

Conceivably, Father Rowe could have an episcopate that lasts a decade longer than he has yet been alive, presuming the mandatory retirement age remains where it is. Did the people who elected him think about the fact that he will probably be the last Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania that most of them will ever be alive to know?!

Beyond our casual contact in Columbus, I know nothing about the bishop-elect, and I wish him well. By all accounts, he has a daunting job ahead of him, as the diocese is in a palpable state of decline, along with the economy and social fabric of the region it comprises. May he take to heart St Paul's advice to his young protege and bishop Timothy: "Let no one despise your youth." (I Tim. 4:12)

In the meantime, as a Baby Boomer who is still only beginning to get used to the idea that my generation is running the country and running the church, and am by no means even close to being reconciled with the reality of my advancing age, being chased by Gen X is an unsettling experience.


Anonymous said...

This news interested me, as well. Your title was very witty. For many Episcopal churches, this new bishop would actually be in the “younger members” category. I remember a church I worked in while in seminary (New York City). I was asked to form a group for “younger members,” which meant late 20’s through late 30’s. We were casting about for a name, and one of the members suggested “Ambulatory at All Saints’.” What a lark.

As one on the divide between baby boomer and gen-x, I feel pulled in both directions about all this. I hope and pray some younger folks in leadership will pull us away from the identity politics of the boomer generation, but I also am concerned that someone this young simply will not have the experience and formation in ordained ministry to do the work set before him. However, I am not willing to judge before actions are made known. The canons were put in for some reason, and I can only (obediently) assume that this could be God's way of helping us move beyond the fixations of the current and recent era.

So, enjoy the moment. I'm getting used to more and more of the important people in my life being my age or younger (starting with my own bishop, for one!). It is interesting to see some of the boomers in our diocese express their instant disdain for anyone younger than they are being their boss. The old chant about "anyone over 30" has really come home to roost!

In Christ,


Anonymous said...

As if he didn't have enough of a challenge ahead, it seems that the Standing Committee decided to terminate 3 of 4 full time Diocesan staff, including the Bishop's executive secretary, one day after his election!