Church leader says ‘soap opera’ rows over sexual politics drive away young

YOUNG people are tired of the Church of England “soap opera” over gay bishops and other controversies, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who attended a youth conference in Yorkshire yesterday.

Dr Rowan Williams travelled to the region to take part in an event organised by the Sheffield-based Church Army, an evangelical branch of the church which aims to attract young people.

Speaking about recent publicity attracted over homosexuality and women bishops he said that many of the arguments were totally irrelevant to most young people and added: “It is a huge problem.

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“People see the soap opera of Church politics and they think: ‘What’s that all about?’ The question we are trying to address here is finding a message we can use to move us away from that soap opera.”

Dr Williams was joined by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, at the Regeneration Youth Summit in St Thomas Church Philadelphia, Sheffield, along with 25 bishops from across the country and more than 100 young churchgoers aged between 15 and 21.

The event was organised in response to statistics gathered by the Church of England which show that in many areas of the country its congregations have an average age of over 60, with young people totally absent.

Dr Williams added: “There is a real famine of young people engaged with the Church, and we want to ask young people who are in the Church what they think is going wrong. But it’s not just a whinge session.

“If I am not asking these questions then I am not doing my job. It is absolutely essential to stay in touch with grass roots of the Church, and for me it’s an energy and life giving thing.

“I think there are at least two things which we need to address. One is that this generation is not known for signing up to very much at all. They don’t sign up to clubs and societies, and at present the Church looks very much like a club.

“The second is a whole mass of assumptions about what Church and Church people look like, that the majority of young people still have to fight their way through.”

Also attending the conference yesterday was Sam Follett, a 20-year-old from Hertfordshire, who is the youngest member of the Church’s governing body, the General Synod, and the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, who said he was delighted to welcome Dr Williams to the city.