Recently, I had the great pleasure of being invited to participate in a strategic planning day with the Mount Street Jesuit Centre.
Their aim was to explore how to better serve the younger generations and our collective future. As a guest, my role was to input stimulation, challenge and food for thought, based on the stories I collated for Generation Y, Spirituality and Social Change.
The Mount Street Centre is a huge space – the home of a small community of religious, plus abundant meeting rooms, halls, guest accommodation and a stunning church and garden. All a stone’s throw from Bond Street. Like many Christian communities in the UK, falling numbers and an aging population indicate a shelf life which could be as little as 12 years. They urgently need to engage with youth and speak a prophetic vision fit for our times. In other words, they need to reinvent themselves for a new era.
For me, this is a fascinating and very relevant enquiry. The Jesuit Church has many assets, both material and spiritual. Abundant, beautiful and well-located buildings. Resources and global infrastructure. A powerful system of spiritual practices and guidance that lead the seeker into a place of depth and inner experience. And a lived relationship with the critical issues of our times, as expressed by Pope Francis in his encyclical, The Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor.
Young people, meanwhile, may be averse to institutions, but they are hungry for meaning and purpose. They are engaging with those critical issues passionately with great vision, need resources desperately, are seeking cost-free spaces for community and connection, and often express a need for inner tools and practices, as well as spiritual guidance and non-hierarchical mentorship.
So how can those needs and assets come together?
Mount Street have taken a bold step. Engaging social innovation consultants, Wild Labs, and forward-thinking Revd Gareth Powell to lead their strategic planning, they are diving deep into the business of evolution.
As part of their discernment process, Stephen King, co-founder of Wild Labs, gathered together a gallery of projects that are trail blazing new ways to bring together meaning, social action and community. Many of the young people interviewed in my book are involved in these projects or others like them. They contain the spark of the future: organic, non-hierarchical, inventive, alive.
Included in the gallery were places of worship that offer cultural experiences as a gateway (such as the Union Chapel’s music programme, or the cafe at new monastic community Moot); and shared spaces encouraging innovation (such as the House of St Barnabas, which runs an employment academy, helping people break out of the cycle of homelessness, or indeed St Ethelburga’s, a place with Christian roots that has deeply opened its doors to all faiths and spiritualities to co-create social action projects). We looked at cutting edge spaces for learning or public dialogue (such as the School of Life which offers secular courses aimed at a more fulfilling existence, or Enrol Yourself, which draws on the power of peer groups) and places for sharing personal story and narratives of meaning (such as Sister Stories or the On Being Project). My favourite category was also included. I have a private passion for projects that link up historically unrelated communities to solve needs in a creative way – such as the famous Nuns and Nones, where elderly nuns mentor millennials with no faith affiliation (dubbed nones in the US, from the ‘none of the above’ category on the national census). Or Food Cycle, a volunteer-led program collecting surplus food from supermarkets that would otherwise go to waste and turning it into generous free meals, hosted in a range of community spaces, including churches, for those suffering food poverty or social isolation.
Some of these projects are explicitly faith-related, others not. Many are youth-led, others not. But they all reflect new ways of organising – coming together around the human need to seek meaning, contribute to social action, negotiate the thresholds of life or be together in community in nourishing ways. They hold essential seeds of inspiration for faith communities seeking new ways to step beyond the institutional mold and the tired structures that send Generation Y running. New ways to share the real gifts of spirituality and space to gather with a world that is very much in need.
Thank you so much to Mount Street and to Wild Labs for inviting me in to this important conversation, which I know is relevant for many other communities. Can’t wait to see what emerges!
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Generation Y, Spirituality and Social Change, edited by Justine Afra Huxley.
A new collection of stories and interviews with young adults and their allies exploring this new landscape, reflecting both the energy and inspiration of the next generation and the tremendous challenges they face. It points towards an exciting evolution in the way we are relating to the sacred.
With stories from: Adam Bucko, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, Kara Moses, Abbas Zahedi, Camille Barton, Bruna Kadletz, Dekila Chungyalpa, Matt Youde, Amrita Bhohi, Sun Kaur, and many others. With supporting stories from senior leaders including: Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner, Bhai Sahib Dr Mohinder Singh, and more.
Watch the video book trailer for Generation Y, Spirituality and Social Change
Learning from Generation Y and Z
Engage Dr Justine Huxley to give a talk or workshop on these themes, with young people from the book: firstname.lastname@example.org
St Ethelburga’s is also now hosting intergenerational dialogues for senior faith or business leaders to come together with young social activists who hold a vision of spirituality and faith in our future. These dialogues create safe space and use a restorative justice dialogue process to explore how the generations can work together. For more info: email@example.com
Mount Street Jesuit Centre