LUSAKA, Zambia — Anglican churches risk losing youth from their churches if they fail to respond creatively to the challenges of emerging youth culture, according to the Rev. Robert Sihubwa, Youth Coordinator for the Province of Central Africa. “The Anglican Church in the Global South shares the same structures, liturgy, and theology with Anglicans in the North. Is what happened in the North going to happen in the Global South as well? Are we headed in a direction where we will also say, ‘We used to have young people in the church?’”
Anglican Consultative Council delegates joined with church leaders from across the Diocese of Lusaka today for a conference on mission and ministry at Holy Cross Cathedral in Lusaka. Though delegates from several parishes and church organizations made presentations, a drama and following panel discussion focused on the needs of youth attracted the most attention.
The drama, which was acted out by members of Lusaka’s Anglican Youth Fellowship, featured a young man abandoning the dull fellowship of his local Anglican parish to party with his friends on Sunday morning. He was drawn back, though, by a group of dancing young people, accompanied by a pastor rapping the words to Amazing Grace.
The group of youth then cited some factors that make young people resist participation in Anglican churches, including strict dress codes, old-fashioned music, and rapid changes in clergy, which make it difficult to develop personal relationships with the priests.
Zambia, like other African nations, is predominantly young, with 50% of the population under 15 in 2015. According to Sihubwa, young Anglicans in Zambia are increasingly dropping out of church life to attend more hip Pentecostal congregations or to stop attending church altogether. “I cannot come back,” one young person recently told Sihuwa. “The moment I come into church, my life goes into slow motion.”
He called Anglicans around the world to “intentionally look at the structures of church, the liturgy of church, the theology we teach in the seminaries, asking ‘How are we responding to the emerging youth culture?"
“Greater creativity and innovation” will allow Anglicans to express their faith, Sihubwa said, “in a variety of ways.”
Sihubwa is one of a generation of young priests who are reshaping the life of the traditionally Anglo-Catholic Diocese of Lusaka, according to Diocesan Bishop David Njovu. “They have decided to change the church from inside,” he said, noting that their introduction of contemporary music and Pentecostal-style services has led to growth and revitalization in several diocesan churches.
ACC youth delegate Catherine Ngangira, who serves as the National Youth President of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, said that she urges youth to participate widely in church leadership, so that their voices can be heard. “Encourage young people not to just sit back and complain,” she said, “but to be part of everything happening in churches.” Ngangira said with pride that some Zimbabwean churches have a youth member on each church committee, and a few even have young people serving as churchwardens.
Ncumisa Magadla, the leader of the Anglican Environmental Network in the Province of Southern Africa, said that her organization was having a major impact among youth through creative use of social media. The network’s Facebook page, she said, is flooded with texts, posts and pictures of young people taking action in local churches against climate change.
Juliet Jay Phiri, the Youth Coordinator at Saint Peter’s Parish in Lusaka, said that her congregation had connected with youth by showing Christian movies and hosting sporting events. They also tackle topics from everyday life in regular youth services and use contemporary worship music. “We bring what they love to do out there into church, and [here] they find content that will not fade away.”
Modern dress trends are clearly a challenge in some African Anglican churches. Magadla stated of her home parish in a rural South African village, “If I go up to receive communion with my arms uncovered, one of the Mother’s Union members will wrap a chitenge [an African scarf] around me.”
“We are quick to drive away people who are not properly dressed,” added Phiri. “We are for lost people. If we drive them away, where will they go? How will I embrace them? Let young people feel that they are wanted — and not that they are condemned.”
Despite the fact that some youth have turned away from Anglican churches, the panelists all described themselves as deeply committed to the church’s witness.
Magadla said she has found “so much grace and mercy within the Anglican Church. Our liturgy,” she added, “I feel it is the best thing ever.”
Ngangira noted that her love for the church was shaped by the way she and her sister had been cared for by fellow Anglicans after the death of both her parents.
“I found myself belonging to a family even if I had lost my parents. I found love and care in the church. The Mother’s Union and the Father’s Union, they all took us and embraced us as if we were their own children. The way we were nurtured made me decide, where else can I go where I would find love like this?”
In contrast, those who attend a Pentecostal church lack this personal relationship with their priests, she said, adding that Anglican priests take the time to understand their congregation.
“I am proud to be an Anglican,” Ngangira concluded. “I see no need to go to another church. I found everything I need in this church.”