Trapped in the 1960’s

I recently came across an article from the New York Times observing that our political debates often get sucked into the vortex of 1960’s politics.  Of course, what can be said of politics specifically is often true of the society generally.  In this case, I definitely believe it is true of the institutional Church:

It is your classic self-fulfilling prophecy: the more the ’60s generation dominates the political discourse, the less that discourse engages younger voters, and the longer the boomers hold sway over our politics.

{Read it all}

Has anyone else observed this phenomenon?

  • Rob Travis

    I've totally noticed that. As have other priests I know from Gen X and later. I wonder if we'll have to wait, in the church, until the boomers die off before we'll be able to get ourselves out of the 1960's quagmire. That is one of the reasons I have a problem with retired bishops having vote in the House of Bishops, because they just draw out the problems that really should be done with now that they are no longer in active ministry.

  • Hostpur


    I'm now that 40-something who remembers well a long deceased bishop predicting this turn of events. Heads up: it happens in synagogues too.

    I read recently that once "the great recession" comes to an end there is going to be a mega-tsunami of resumes coming from frustrated Gen-X'ers who can't get ahead in the corporate world due to the lack of retirements from Baby Boomers with no lives outside work.

  • Jody+

    Rob, Hotspur,

    I think this situation plays itself out in a self-defeating way in many congregations. During my brief time ministering in congregations I have heard repeated laments that there are so few youth or "young" adults (and in most Episcopal Churches, "young" seems to refer to anyone below 50… which makes sense given the increasing average age of many of our small congregations).

    Despite these laments however, there is a common theme. When you get folks to talk through their desires, what comes out is that they actually want the young adults to come in and take over roles in what is already going on–in other words, many of these folks, who have been very faithful in their involvement and we should not forget that–want to "retire" and pass on the hard work to other, younger members. The problem is two-fold: they don't recognize that most younger folks have no interest in continuing things as they have set them up. Many of our Church organizations are simply unattractive to younger adults and they don't have the time or inclination to allow themselves to be drafted into doing the grunt work for things they don't find inspiring or useful.

    When new new leadership emerges despite these challenges there is often a struggle for control as the long-time members don't understand why things are changing and try to re-exert control. In the end, many of the younger members are disgusted by the behavior and simply leave. When this happens, the organization or congregation are back where they started, except that they're a year or two closer to the death of the organization as they continue in terminal decline.


    The problem with that scenerio–and I don't doubt that it may come to pass–is that the folks who try to flee the corporate world will likely be assuming there are positions available in the church that will pay a living wage. Those positions are drying up, and will continue to do so. Trends indicate that the two types of congregations that are becoming more prevalent are large congregations of over 1000 members, and small congregations of under 100. The reasons for this are complex, but what is happening is not that small congregations are disappearing, but rather that mid-size congregations (often consiered large in the Episcopal landscape) are being pulled in two as people seek more intimacy and gravitate toward smaller congregations, as they simultaneously burn themselves out trying to offer the programming that people expect, which is offered at a much higher level in very large congregations.

    It's actually rather ironic that I have found myself in successive full-time ministry positions since I recognized this trend was occurring before I went to seminary and even during my discernment process indicated my expectation and desire to be bi-vocational. Of course, I envisioned myself teaching at a university and serving a congregation, and those academic jobs–at least in the liberal arts–are drying up as well. So I'm reevaluating what other field I may be involved in, but I don't imagine that I will spend my entire ministry employed full-time by the church. Indeed, I shudder to think about it because I think the pay-for-ministry model warps the pastoral relationship. But that's another discussion.

    • Hotspur

      LOL! Quite a few Reform Jewish congregations went to "pay-to-play" back in the 80's with disastrous results. I prefer the "go make tents and minister on the side" model myself. It keeps folks grounded in good ways (funny how you get critical, conservative and humane thinkers that way 😉