Youth ministry

“I believe the children are our future …”

Um, no. The children are here now. They are our present. If you have spent five minutes with a child, you know how present they are. They are all about the right now. My son, when he was younger, learned to make complex sentences by challenging my view of time with his own:

“Mummy please may I have a drink not in a minute but right now please?”

(Yes, I am still dealing with the mommy guilt. And no, he hadn’t learned punctuation yet, even orally.)

Please understand that this post is not a complaint, gripe or snipe. I love our youth ministries. I love in particular the diocesan events that my own young people attend, because they love them so very much. I love Episcoprom (best idea ever, I am told), Happening, lock-ins, Spring Gatherings, Youth Leadership (formerly Peer Ministry) Trainings and the whole chabang, without having attended any of them, because they cause my children to come home joyful, intentional, and knowing themselves to be part of a real and loving community.

I am looking at all of this, though – and it helps to have readings to consider this week about the call of the boy David to be king (and although he will be king in the future, he is anointed NOW, and if he trips up or gets it wrong with Goliath next week, there will be no future) – and wondering whether we sometimes forget that youth ministry is at least a two-way street.

We tend to think about it in church planning as “working with the youth,” as planning things for them to do, for us to teach them, for us to take them to or tell them about or train them for. We think about raising the children and youth as future church members, future leaders. But what if we took seriously the idea that youth ministry is also and at least as much about the ministry of the youth, right here right now, to us?

We often talk about what we can do to build up our common life, and I look with wonder upon the community that the youth of this diocese has built, and I wonder what the rest of our parish households could learn about loving one another, leaning on one another, being a household of God together from our children. Can we let them teach us how to be a no-holds-barred, full-on, built-together spiritual edifice with Christ as our cornerstone and love for God and neighbour as cement?

Communications. Some of us are wringing our hands trying to keep up in a responsible way with a world gone viral. Our children know this world as their own. They can teach us, if we let them, and if we let go of just a little of our anxiety about chaos and change. Growing is all about chaos and change, after all.

My friend Ken yesterday wrote a moving piece about forgetting to dance and shoes that are too small ( ); children grow out of their inhibition-less exhibitions in the aisles as their feet grow. What if we let them teach us now, while they are still young enough to do it, how to praise God freely, without embarrassment, without shame, kicking off our shoes if they are too tight?

What if instead of depending upon the children as our future, we looked at their present, their presence, their gifts, as our call to be in the here and now?

As I said, this isn’t a complaint, a criticism, a rant. I am grateful to so many people for great ministry with my young people, and for allowing them their ministry. When my daughter preached at the cathedral a couple of weeks ago, the Dean didn’t say, “She’s going to be a preacher!” She said, “She is a preacher.”

The Canons of the Episcopal Church say that sixteen is the threshold for adult membership of the church. That means that as well as promoting “Special” youth representatives and delegates to conventions and vestries and committees (and those can be great opportunities, as long as they do not obscure or dilute that coming of age), we are allowed to elect sixteen and seventeen-year-olds to sit and vote and shape our future and our present as equals alongside their sixty and seventy-year-old peers. Do we tell them that, when they turn sixteen? Should we consider having a “coming of age” celebration to let them know and to remind ourselves that they are not future or potential adult members, church leaders – they are now?

Should we let the children lead us in a merry dance as we do so?




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2 Responses to Youth ministry

  1. Ken Ranos says:

    Thanks for the ping!

    When I look back on my 10 months of internship so far, I am amazed at how much the children have taught me. I was most worried about working with them, since I’ve never seen myself as particularly good with kids (not bad, either, just not stellar). They have helped me break loose and have fun like I haven’t done in years. I owe a lot of my internship learning to them.

    • They do teach us how to break loose, and how to step back and let them grow. They teach us to stay in the moment and pay attention, to watch our words and our nonverbals, to be honest. They can coach us in some useful and transferable skills! If you can learn from them, you’re great with kids!

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