Last weekend, as Manitobans commemorated the life of Louis Riel, I joined a youth gathering (named Zeebu) in Portage la Prairie and sang a fair bit of Our Lady Peace.
Their song “Innocent,” for example, with its compelling line “But it all seems so contagious, not to be yourself and faceless.” With over 80 inspiring United Church young adult leaders and youth helping one another be themselves, I saw powerful inoculation against “contagious facelessness.”
Transfiguration Sunday reminded us of how the full spectrum of God’s light shimmered on Jesus’ face, as it had on Moses’ face generations earlier. I saw the full spectrum of God’s light shimmering through this community.
What better way to demonstrate wholeness of soul and community than to help one another be our true, made-in-the-image-of-God selves? Presentations and discussions had them looking out to the whole world, exploring the nature of “fair play”(in the midst of Olympics fever) with stories of global partners and fair trade, for instance. I can’t imagine a better way of seeing the face of Christ in one other than through such youth ministry as this.
Debbie Coss serves as the “glue” to this ministry in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Conference, organizing at least two of these Conference-wide gatherings a year, where each person is invited to see him- or herself as God sees him or her. The teens told me such opportunities are hard to come by elsewhere in their lives.
When I asked what they’d want to say to The United Church of Canada, top of their list was their pride in being part of a church that is “up to date,” giving two particular examples: being Affirming and taking action on environmental concerns. One of them said, “On campus, when we talk about church, I’m proud to say I’m part of the United Church.”
But they also expect the church to live up to its stated priority for youth and young adult ministry—with, for example, funding to provide more staff support at the presbytery level for relevant, creative programming; ways by which to connect better with United Church youth between retreats, across small rural congregations, and within cities.
As one person said, “Most of us come from small churches where there’s a real push to get adults into church, with lots offered ‘for adults.’ But where are the efforts to keep the youth in the church?”
They spoke about their own spiritual needs, which can’t be adequately met if they’re teaching Sunday school most Sundays, without the chance to be in worship and faith formation groups for themselves. One spoke about her fundraising skills, honed through other community work, which doesn’t appear to be welcome when she offers these to her church.
One comment brought us back to themes of Transfiguration and Our Lady Peace: “Who I am now is who I was before—but I needed these retreats and church camp to help me really discover who I am. Maybe now I can change a younger kid’s life this way. That’s the best thing any of us can give another person—the chance to learn about ourselves, who we really are.”
In a recent Christian Century book review, Kenda Creasy Dean puts it this way: “[C]hurches are uniquely equipped to practice the art of spiritual accompaniment, sharing a way of life with young people that participates in God’s activity in the world before, during and after confirmation, until young adults are ready to spiritually accompany someone else.”
Some of last weekend’s leaders have been accompanied through the Youth Ministry Certificate program at Calling Lakes Centre, and they told me this has made all the difference. Like similar programs at other United Church education centres, they said these experiences helped grow their confidence and skill development for leadership. Another example of faithful accompaniment.
What can you tell me and others in our church about healthy youth ministry as you know it or accompany it?