By:  Shantha Ready Alonso, Vice Chair, World Student Christian Federation, Washington, DC, USA

“Where are the young people in our churches?” This is a question I have heard over and over again in Western local church, national, and regional settings. I have listened to church leaders of more senior generations fret that young people no longer care about church nor recognize the instrumental role churches have historically played in society.

It’s not that we young people don’t have faith. We are known (especially in Western contexts) to declare ourselves as spiritual but not religious. Its just that we are feeling a collective ambivalence about whether the church is a force for good in the world. We do not wish to share in the history of colonialism and cultural imperialism that Christianity brought to our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. We have seen churches that exclude certain people, or churches that treat women in ways we would never tolerate in secular settings. We have observed cover-ups of sex scandals and financial mis-management, greater concern with building preservation than mission, unwillingness to be open to inter-faith experiences…and therefore we look at churches with suspicion. And yet, we still hunger to be part of communities that live out love and engage God’s mission.

Saturday night, about 40 young people representing the Episcopal Church-USA, the PC(USA), National Council of Churches-USA, Church Women United, and World Student Christian Federation gathered in prayer, fellowship, and preparation for advocacy at the 55th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  I sat in a small group with young women from Louisiana, Kentucky, New York, Georgia, and Ohio. We were supposed to be talking about what made us proud about bringing a Christian voice to the United Nations CSW. We looked at each other quizzically. The question did not resonate. The brave New Yorker spoke up: “Working for justice – doing the work Jesus did and calls us to do – helps me re-claim what it means to be Christian in a time when people widely see Christianity in a negative light.” Another agreed: “Christianity has enough of a history of pride and self-righteousness. I am glad to be here to do the work, and let the work speak for itself.” The women from Louisiana joked,” one time my pastor challenged us by saying we Christians suffer from ‘ascension deficit disorder’ – meaning we are too smug and comfortable because we think we are saved.  Actually, if we’re not participating in God’s ongoing work for salvation, we are not honoring the work and witness of the Jesus we profess to follow.”  At the end of our session of discussion and preparation, we experienced a sincere time of prayer and offering our work to God.

Young people are not checked out of church. Perhaps we are more interested than being the church – the body of Christ at work in God’s world – than we are in going to church and sitting on Sunday. I am looking forward to seeing the way the young people of faith at CSW contribute in the coming weeks and take the work home.

If you’re from the U.S. &/or Canada, check out these hotspots for ecumenical youngpeople:

* New Fire Network for Young Adult Ecumenism:  http://www.newfirenetwork.org (A broad network for Christian communions/denominations and young adult-oriented ecumenical organizations to engage in awareness-raising, information-sharing, and capacity-building.)

* Student Christian Movement of Canada: http://scmcanada.org (grassroots-oriented organization that is a part of a global network of national Student Christian Movement and their grassroots campus communities. The global organization is known as the World Student Christian Federation (or WSCF).)

* Student Christian Movement USA: http://scmusa.org (grassroots-oriented organization that is a part of a global network of national Student Christian Movement and their grassroots campus communities. The global organization is known as the World Student Christian Federation (or WSCF).

Students and Young People All Over the World-

* World Student Christian Federation social networking site: http://www.wscfconnection.org