Millennials in London drawn to ‘smells and bells’: ‘Church shouldn’t pretend to be your nightclub’

Millennials in London drawn to ‘smells and bells’: ‘Church shouldn’t pretend to be your nightclub’ January 5, 2019
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From The Times of London: 

Almost everything about services at St Bartholomew the Great church is old-fashioned. Purple-robed choristers process through clouds of pungent incense. The priest, the Rev Marcus Walker, brandishes an ornate golden King James Bible above his head before reading from the 1611 text. The liturgy is a mixture of 16th-century prose and sung Latin. The medieval priory church, which sits a stone’s throw from the central London hospital of the same name, was founded in 1123.

However, the congregation watching on at a recent service were younger than most would expect; at least a quarter were under 35. They had come to observe a handful of men and women, mostly in their late twenties, be baptized into the Anglican faith. Afterwards the millennials gathered inside the stone cloisters to explain why the archaic drama of traditional worship still appealed.

Several said they relished the connection to past generations of believers through reciting the Book of Common Prayer, which English Christians have been using since 1549. Others valued the beauty and history of the choral music and Shakespearean liturgy. They were not simply “young fogeys”, they insisted. Three of the group had separately found their way to St Bartholomew’s after becoming friendly with Walker on Twitter.

For years most of those longing for revival within the church have placed their hopes in the energetic evangelical wing exemplified by megachurches such as Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in west London. However, the baptisms at St Bartholomew’s were part of what some regard as a similar resurgence among the young within the Church of England’s Catholic wing.

Westcott House, a traditionalist theological college in Cambridge, has welcomed a steady stream of ordinands in their twenties and thirties. The two churches in the region sending the most young ordinands were Anglo-Catholic, the Rev Anna Matthews, a local vicar and diocesan official, said. Her church has produced six candidates in the past four years.

Some millennials raised in the more informal evangelical tradition are crossing over to the older style of worship. They describe the lure of a Christianity that does not aspire to be relevant or fashionable. The Rev Fergus Butler-Gallie, a 27-year-old priest in Liverpool, said churches did not need to “pretend to be your nightclub” to appeal to the young. “It can be church and have an air of mystery.”

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