Re-igniting Youth Ministry
The old adage “it takes a village to raise a child” originates from an old African proverb that says it takes more than one person or even a family to raise a child. It takes a whole village who are working together to provide a safe, healthy, loving, secure environment for children and young people in which to develop and flourish.
This idea is based on the notion that caring for children and youth is actually a shared responsibility. What a gift it is in a time of increasing family and village breakdown along with all the other factors pressing down on young people and their families.
“It takes a village to raise a child” is a very Christian concept. At baptism and confirmation, following the presentation of the candidate by the sponsors, the celebrant addresses the congregation and asks: “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” The answer is always a resounding, “We will.” Of course, our every ‘yes’ to God means that we actually act and pray and help in any way we can to help the individual grow into the full stature of Christ.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” speaks to me in a big way in this moment in time as we continue the work of re-igniting children’s and youth ministry around Algoma. Over the last few weeks, I visited ‘in person’ or virtually the five clericus groups in our diocese to check in and to wish them well as they hold parish Annual Vestry Meetings. In the course of our conversations, I was encouraged to learn that many are involved in some form of child or youth ministry either as an outreach, or in the form of Messy Church or the more formal gatherings such as Sunday School, Godly Play, or Youth Groups.
Joining a youth group was the gateway for me into the Anglican Church – way back in 1977!! A friend casually invited me to a newly formed youth group in the parish she and her family attended. In no time at all I was part of a very active youth group which met on Friday evenings for fellowship and community building. At its peek, there were close to 80 young people in attendance every week. We were active participants in divine worship on Sundays (I loved Sunday afternoon’s Evensong) and were also invited to become members of the parish advisory board. We became engaged in numerous social action projects in the local community. It was with this youth group that I heard the pop singer Cliff Richard ‘live’. The years I was involved in this youth group was a time of enormous spiritual growth for me and the reason I chose religious studies as my major at college. That parish was an ‘incubator parish’ for youth ministry. We were encouraged to be involved in parish life and our God given gifts were welcomed and recognized by congregants. Two of us from that cohort were later ordained as Anglican priests.
We should never underestimate the importance of youth ministry or the impact that our acceptance and inclusion of children and youth makes in their lives.
This year, at the diocesan level, we are hoping to get ‘Youth Synod’ up and running again. For decades, youth from around Algoma met during the summer at the unique and very Northern Ontario Camp Manitou in the Bay of Islands for an experience of the living Christ lived out in community. Over the years Youth Synod has been formational and transformational for numbers of young people and adults many of whom are life-long friends and remain rooted in their faith and committed leaders in their churches.
Those of us who have been to Youth Synod or have been involved in youth ministry in any way know that any ministry is God’s work. “We only participate in it. And as God’s work, it can neither be forced nor be prevented with absolute certainty.” Wesley Ellis: Youth Beyond the Developmental Lens: Being over Becoming.
I have written to 20 Algomites who have had previous involvement in youth ministry in the Diocese of Algoma and who have a heart for young people and youth ministry to invite them to meet with me for a discussion about how we can re-ignite Youth Synod. I have invited the Rev. Jeff Hooper (Incumbent of the Church of the Ascension in Sudbury) to take the lead in this effort. I am hoping that they will say ‘yes’ to being part of a ‘think tank’ with the Rev. Jeff Hooper and myself on Wednesday 7th February in order for us to make good and wise decisions about the nature and shape of a diocesan youth ministry program in 2024 and beyond.
At the time of writing, we do not have a confirmed date or venue for Youth Synod. Indeed, this is all a part of our discernment. I am very aware, as you are, that over the last several years there has been a decline in church attendance for youth and at Youth Synod. We must begin somewhere because we all know that “It isn’t the numbers that matter. It’s each and every teenager we are entrusted with to help them grow into disciples of the living Christ.” Marcey Balcomb, Single Digit Youth Groups.
Please pray for all children and youth in Algoma as well as those who are involved in child or youth ministry.
“Turn your loving gaze, O God, upon young people. They carry in their hearts a great hope: make them strong and pure, so that they can build their tomorrow with confidence. Let them receive freely the gift of the faith, accept it with gratitude, and develop it with generosity.”