This is something akin to the Onion style of newsreporting, but if CNS posts it, it must be true. The German Diocese of Essen is mimicking the Italian beach effort described here earlier this year. Diocesan spokeman Winfried Dolhausen is earnest:
These (inflatable) churches will be on a continual journey, meeting the young where they are rather than waiting for them to come to us. Although we won’t be celebrating Mass in these new churches, they’ll act as centers for spiritual offices, meditations and discussions, and will encourage the young to get involved.
Diocesan youth director Peter Huyeng told a German news agency they have ordered an inflatable church and it should arrive and be ready to use by Advent.
I have to confess I’m not sure where to start on this one.
Young people of any sensibility have no problem going to a church if they have a sense they will be welcomed. It doesn’t matter if the people are conservative or liberal, or somewhere in between. I’ve always counted on American parish life to be strong enough to handle incoming young people. I’d feel sad if this weren’t true in Europe.
I’m hearing more often of plans to take youth ministry out of parishes and do it in high schools (with campus ministers) and in regional centers. I don’t know if this is wise. It takes youth out of parishes, where there can be a certain mutuality in ministry: young people serving the community in liturgy, as catechists, in service ministries alongside adults, and in some cases, serving in ministry to adults. Taking ministry out of churches and going to young people skews the best efforts of youth ministry: integrating teens into participation in the Christian community. Instead, we treat believing youth as targets rather than as partners, mentoring and gliding them into the life of the Church. My colleagues at Iowa State see a bit of this: declining numbers of incoming students registering in the parish. I wonder if these young women and men have never thought of themselves as adult parishioners.
Inflatable churches are humorous enough to not be threatening to non-believers. Indeed, it might be hard to take it seriously. They will attract people, if the staff is sincere, qualified, and engaging. But do you really need a fake church building to conduct ministry? Is the icon of a church so vital it needs cheap replication?
Otherwise, I don’t know what to make of it. Do any of you?