Church and Youth: The Shock of the Old

Mar 1, 2018 by

by Fergus Butler-Gallie, Prayer Book Society:

As a teenager, Fergus Butler-Gallie was struck by the power of a book that, he was told, belonged in the past.

Unlikely resurrections should not surprise us; they are supposed to be our stock-in-trade. Nevertheless, judging by the reaction of some people within the Church to the idea that traditional liturgy might be of interest to young people, there is still work to be done.

Yet it is happening across the traditions: from revivals of interest in the Extraordinary Form among Roman Catholics of Generation Y to an upsurge in enthusiasm for that former cornerstone of Anglicanism, considered dead only 30 years ago, the Book of Common Prayer. Good Millennial that I am, I would like to offer the anecdotal evidence of my own conversion and exploration of vocation. If you are still committed to the somewhat old-fashioned empirical side of things, then there are plenty of places where you might find equivalent stories repeated. (The Prayer Book Society has some fascinating statistics, and is worth contacting.)

I was brought up in an unchurched environment. Yes, I was baptised as a baby, but that did not translate to church attendance. Godparents were people who sent cash on birthdays if you were lucky; prayers were things that you said once a week in assembly; Noah was the child who used to trip people up during break-time football.

Yet as an adolescent, I became increasingly aware of something called “Church”. An interest in history—mostly the result of the graphic violence and occasional nudity that could be garnered from watching a costume drama under the guise of research—meant that I repeatedly came across this alien monolith: Christianity. I don’t know when I first made the decision to “go to church”, but I know it was on my own, and that no Damascene conversion was forthcoming.

After a year or so of dipping my toe in here and there, I decided that faith was something that I wanted to take more seriously. Home was not a place bursting with the cultural accoutrements of religion: I was not sung to sleep with Matt Redman songs, nor introduced to Thomas Aquinas alongside Topsy and Tim.

There was, however, an old Book of Common Prayer that sat on the bookshelf where my parents kept books thought not to be of any great interest to us children. It was, if I remember, sandwiched between the Daily Telegraph’s Second Book of Obituaries, and D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. It had belonged to a long-dead great-aunt, and was replete with prayers for Queen Mary. Intrigued by that old-book smell, and in lieu of anything else, I began to pray occasionally, using the offices of morning and evening prayer.

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