In Yearning, his book on young adults in the church, Robert Hendrickson does not give a list of strategies churches should employ or assets they should acquire to draw in millennials. Instead, he insists that the Episcopal Church already has all the resources it needs to minister effectively to young adults.
“We have an opportunity to rediscover that which is essential to who we are and how we proclaim the Good News with integrity and authenticity,” Hendrickson writes early in the book. “The Episcopal Church’s challenge now is not to be relevant—our approach to faith is utterly and completely relevant. Our challenge is to present the tradition freshly and with newfound commitment and vigor.”
The rest of the book explores ways in which we might respond to that challenge. In each chapter, Hendrickson focuses on one aspect of the church that, in his experience, resonates with young adults.
He covers a range of qualities, such as beauty, rigor, and catholicity. Though these discussions can at times seem abstract, they are grounded by stories of Hendrickson’s experiences both as a deacon and then priest in a decidedly Anglo-Catholic parish and as a leader in two intentional Christian communities, St. Hilda’s House and Ascension House in New Haven, CT.
Hendrickson’s voice is joined by those of many young adult interns of these two communities, who have contributed short essays that complement his own. Some chapters are composed entirely by young adults.
Their reflections on the impact of different facets of the church provide support for Hendrickson’s insistence that it is the church’s traditions, and not any completely new initiatives, that speak to young adults most profoundly.
Each chapter also provides reflection questions, making the book convenient for group study and offering a springboard for reflection about practical issues.
Though Hendrickson certainly looks to tradition as the basis for his ideas about ministry with young adults, he is also future-oriented. He does not spend so much time looking backward that the reader forgets the real intent is to renew that tradition for the future. Nor does he suggest upholding tradition for tradition’s sake; the book carefully demonstrates the value of each element it discusses and does not insist on one particular manifestation of any of the ideals it puts forth.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of Yearning is its ability to show long-time Episcopalians their traditions through new eyes. Warnings of the so-called decline of the Episcopal Church are frequent and often accompanied by cries for change.
Hendrickson’s voice reminds clergy and lay people of the gifts already present within the church and assures them that these gifts, when presented authentically, have the power to keep it vital in the years to come.
Kristen Pitts (@krinipi) is an M.Div. junior at Virginia Theological Seminary.