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'Help, my friends think I'm mad!' - Youth Day at Lambeth Palace

Saturday 23rd June 2012

Archbishop Rowan welcomed around 80 students aged 15-18 years to Lambeth Palace for a day of sharing and discussion, reflection and worship, and a barbecue lunch.

The theme of the day ('Help, my friends think I'm mad!') looked at what it means to be a Christian in an increasingly secular environment.  In his opening remarks the Archbishop talked about science and faith, women bishops, and whether being a Christian means giving up on common sense. 

Read the Archbishop's remarks below:

Good morning everybody. It’s a real treat to have you here. I’ve done extensive market research about today with my family (at least one conversation!) asking “Why is it that other people think you’re weird if you’re involved in the church?” We boiled down the answer to three things: science, sex and common sense. Science, because so many people take it for granted that there’s absolutely nothing to be said any longer in favour of religion because something mysterious called “science” has taken over. Sex, because that seems to be the only thing the Church is interested in sometimes if you read the papers and it all looks very weird. And common sense, because religious people walk around dressed in strange clothes, they say strange things, and some of them even have weird eyebrows. That’s a bit of what I call ‘the market challenge’. During the day I hope there’ll be a chance to say something about all those things, one way or another.

As somebody who doesn’t spend all his time with other Christians, I’m quite conscious too of the fact that people think that I’m weird and we’re weird. And it’s very frustrating at times. On the science front, I think we’re still stuck with a picture of science that’s really about 100 years out of date but still has a huge influence on lots of people – through the media, through what people breathe in the air. The first challenge (and I’ll say more about this later) is getting through that set of assumptions about science, about what it is really to know things.

Then there’s sex; a matter of constant interest to pretty well the whole human race, including not only issues about what you do sexually, but also about gender – about men and women. You’ll have noticed that in the Church of England at the moment we’re in the middle of what looks like a pretty complicated argument about women bishops. I’m speaking as somebody who really very much wants to see women bishops as soon as possible. Like most of you, I am used to a world in which men and women share in decision‑making and discussion without any big issue. I really long to see a time when bishops, as a group, can be like that and feel more like other groups. It is something I am very committed to. I share the frustration of a lot of people, that we’re tangled-up in trying to get the maximum support for it in the Church of England and every move in one direction makes other people move away. It’s like one of those terrible games you get in Christmas crackers sometimes where you have to get the little silver balls into holes – you always get two of them but then the other one goes off somewhere else.

That’s an area where we are in the middle of quite a lot of tangles. Same with same‑sex marriage, where once more we’re used to being alongside people who are gay; many of our friends may be – indeed we may be – wrestling with that issue ourselves, and the Church is scratching its head and trying to work out where it is on all that, and what to think about it. What’s frustrating is that we still have Christian people whose feelings about it are so strong, and sometimes so embarrassed and ashamed and disgusted, that that just sends out a message of unwelcome, of lack of understanding, of lack of patience. So whatever we think about it, we need, as a Church, to be tackling what we feel about it.

As for common sense, well I can’t do much about my eyebrows except for cutting them off, but that’s a small issue! It really touches on the question: are we as a society any good at rituals? What sort of rituals do we have? We all have them – it’s silly to say that only the church has strange rituals. Youth Day at Lambeth PalaceLook around – look at football matches, for goodness sake; look at the way people put flowers on the site of a road accident. Rituals are all around us, and taking rituals seriously doesn’t mean you don’t have any common sense or you’re part of a weird kind of theatre.

I say all of that just to frame the discussion a little bit; what the issues are that tend to come up and will probably come up with your own friends and those around you – issues which from my own ‘vast experience’ of being a parent of two teenagers (a huge experience of immense variety!) I know that you will be feeling. You will be thinking “Am I weird? Am I mad? Am I primitive? Am I bigoted? Does belonging to the church make me some kind of idiot?” Well, you won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t think the answer to that is “yes” for you or, I hope, for me.

But today’s a little bit about thinking that through, and praying it through as well – giving a bit of time for God to come to all this, and some time for our worries to calm down a bit. I hope, as I said at the beginning, that this will be a time for a bit of unwinding and opening up. No pressure - you don’t have to emerge from today with a degree in theology, with Grade A qualifications in mystical contemplation, with the ability to answer everybody’s questions and challenges just like that so that they say “Ah! I never thought of that” (wouldn’t that be lovely?). Just that you may find a bit of space to think, to talk, and to pray about all this, and to go away feeling “Well, perhaps it’s worth it, perhaps it’s worth it” – because I think it is. So we’re going to go away and start with some prayer now, and after that some group work which will be brief, just to get to know each other and share a few things, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

© Rowan Williams 2012

Youth Day at Lambeth Palace

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