I remember there once was a hubbub at my home parish in Beckley about 30 years ago regarding the distractions posed by babies and young children at church. I believe the upshot was that they best be seen and not heard.
These days, as I note the number of seniors in our congregation here in Charleston, I’ve come to adopt the view of our pastor: Noisy babies mean there are young people in the church, which translates to an infusion of energy and vitality to help spread the gospel.
As an up-and-coming gray head myself, I’ve watched the statistics charting our state’s aging population and have taken mental note of places that are defying the trend.
When I visit my sister in Morgantown, I attend services in a modern church teeming with young families. I notice sports powerhouses rising from the big high schools in the D.C. bedroom communities of the Eastern Panhandle and the tech and energy corridor in north-central West Virginia. I see signs of life that the relocated WVU Tech campus is bringing to my hometown.
It’s become enough of a concern that I actually brought it up when I ran into a friend at a recent Mountaineer football game. He’d left Charleston for Martinsburg about 15 years ago and asked how his old town was doing; I replied that it’s getting older.
He understood the assessment. When he lived here, he said, his kids were the only ones on their street, as their block was populated with retirees. Once the family moved east, his children were delighted to find playmates in their new neighborhood.
I remarked that we were lucky to live on a street with kids; I hadn’t considered there were pockets in town without any. As a former street urchin, I remember gangs of us roaming new homes being built in the rolling hills. Now, I’ve lost count of the number of houses for sale in our area.
Sometimes I wonder, who is going to fill those empty spaces and invigorate our valley with new thinking, new spending and new life?
Over the summer, my wife noticed the possible stirrings of a youth movement here in town. She and I, and now our kids, have been going to Live on the Levee since the city’s outdoor concert series began in 2004.
At the last show we attended, she noted that the composition of the audience appeared to be changing. In addition to the usual mix of teens, townies and retirees, she detected a number of young professionals. “Things are different,” she said.
I’m taking different as good. I’m encouraged to see my 20- and 30-something friends choosing to stay and, as I like to say, fight the good fight for our home state. Another friend and her husband have begun starting their own family with a refreshing hopefulness that they can help in the slow change of the city.
The cooperation, vision and work of the city and county, along with that of economic development, civic and arts groups are bearing fruit. Quality-of-life amenities, like bike paths, public murals and events like this weekend’s OctoberWest festival, offer healthy and social activities to foster and tap into community spirit. Small businesses and enticing new eateries are beginning to fill empty storefronts from the East End to the West Side. We’re even developing a food truck culture.
There’s promise in the installation of the 35-mile fiber optic loop around the city to draw not just tech but any business that needs to crunch vast amounts of information. The revamped and re-branded Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center makes smart use of its Elk River location to create a striking venue for hosting all manner of large-scale events. The creation of the Shawnee Sports Complex yielded dividends this year when it scored a U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship Series regional tournament that returns in 2020.
Ours is a city in transition, as heavy industry pulls back and a more light and nimble one jockeys to overwhelm with numbers and variety.
No doubt, problems remain. Against the backdrop of the ongoing opioid crisis lurks the challenge of helping the homeless, the poor and the underserved.
But it appears we have fresh troops coming in. As this generation brings new approaches to a host of emerging issues, I’m hoping and praying that its efforts will be seen and heard as positive signs for a rejuvenated Charleston.
Can I get an Amen?