General Queries in the Western Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice.)
General Query #5 - Youth and the Church – Do you seek the conversion and spiritual development of your young people? Do you endeavor to instruct them in the principles and practices of Friends? Do you strive to create a community life that will promote their mental and physical well being?
This is a fundamental principle – the adults of the community have a responsibility to tend the spiritual life of the children and young people. When Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment he begins by repeating words from Deuteronomy 6 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This follows the Shema - "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one."
But a heart that loves God needs cultivating. The passage in Deuteronomy goes on,
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.(Deuteronomy 6:6-7 NIV)
The community has a responsibility to find ways to plant love of God in the hearts of our children. Jesus reinforces this with a challenge and a warning, "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:5-6 NIV)
Rufus Jones talked about young people and the church in terms of building – “There is no generation of young minds that finds the truths and realities of religion easy of apprehension. Faith is never ready made; it must always be built. The building process is easier in some epochs than in others, but the structure of the spirit must be reared in every case in the face of real difficulties.”(Christian Faith and Practice, #511)
Building a new building is complex, time consuming and expensive. Building hearts that love God is also complex, time consuming and expensive – and it is a building project that never has a clear and definable date of completion. Yet we still need to spend time and money on this building project of christian education and spiritual formation.
It is a good building project to be involved in. We can look around in our meetings and see young people and young adults that have learned to love God. We see the results of generations of caring and sharing the love of God. It is also a frustrating project because it is likely that those young people will move to different places and we might wonder if our efforts were worthwhile. But we must not abandon the building project, even if we do not receive the ultimate benefit.
“Faith is never ready made, it must always be built” (Rufus Jones)
My revision of Query #5: Youth and the Church - How well are we building the love of God in our children and young people? Are we drawing them into a community that loves God? Is our expression of the principles and practices of Friends winsome enough to draw in the youngest in our midst?