The Archdeacon of Portsdown looks at political and social engagement in a digital age.
‘Who has ever been on a protest?’
A sea of blank teenage faces looked back from the audience.
One tentative, raised hand appeared. ‘What was it about?’ ‘Er, I don’t know. I was a baby in a pram. My parents took me.’
Cue widespread laughter.
‘Who has ever joined a campaign, signed a petition or protested via social media?’ A forest of arms waved.
Campaigns about global issues, immigration, racism, education, Brexit and the environment – the subject of our morning’s panel with sixth-formers in Portsmouth Cathedral – had all been taken up by these students.
Young people sometimes get flack for seeming less socially and politically engaged than older generations.
Their record of voting in elections was declining until recently, and their membership of political parties, voluntary organisations, and societies has been on the wane.
Many churches have also seen a similar reduction in numbers of young adults. It would be easy to suggest that digital technology has reduced people’s engagement with real issues and real people.
The young people in the Cathedral showed me this is far from true. How young adults get involved might have changed, but their engagement is no less passionate and may be better informed and globally connected than in the past.
I also know from working with local churches in the city how young people get involved with causes that fire them up. Southsea Christians of all ages have come together to provide shelter for homeless people this winter.
A young team from Harbour Church offers pamper sessions for vulnerable women in the city centre. St Alban’s Church in Copnor has just put on a fabulous circus-themed light party for young families in the area, run by 20-something volunteers and older congregation members.
Word of mouth and social media are used to bring strangers together, organise teams and publicise events.
People unite around causes that they believe in rather than joining a local organisation, but their commitment is no less valuable, and can even be more flexible and adaptive to changing circumstances than before.
Society is changing. Communication patterns have changed. The current generation of digital natives will live, belong, and relate in new ways. Let’s celebrate the creativity and passion of younger people and work with the new possibilities they bring.