Each of the youth ministers I spoke with had something unique and interesting to tell me that they are doing, different from the others. So I thought it would be a good idea to speak briefly about each of them and tell you a little about what they’re up to.
At St. Mark’s the term “youth group” is almost a dirty word! They feel it implies that youth are a separate entity from the rest of the congregation, and the whole point is not to separate them but to integrate youth into parish life! So they go by the term “SMAC Youth” (for St. Mark’s Anglican Church Youth, you can even check them out on Facebook!).
These youth were responsible for introducing the parish to using fair trade coffee and starting a composting program. Also, for three years have done the Side By Side program (PWRDF version of the 30 hour famine), always with a challenge, like “if we raise $1000, we can dye the minister’s hair.” Last year was a great success and this year the goal is to raise $5000.
Every year the Confirmation students have a project, something to leave behind at the Church when they have finished Confirmation so that they can say that they left a mark, that this is their church. This concept of ownership is very important at St. Augustine’s. The project could be a banner, a sign, or even Christmas ornaments, and each class can feel that they have contributed something to church life and can feel a sense of belonging and ownership because of it.
The MUN ministry is very challenging and the leaders at St. Augustine’s have been working very hard to try and overcome some of the obstacles they face in this ministry. One program that has developed is called “Have you ever tried wine before breakfast?” Every Wednesday the church has a service in the morning with guest ministers and professors giving sermons in an attempt to reach out to students and faculty at the university. There is hope that there will be a rotation of professors and priests who will want to be involved, so that each week it is someone different conducting the service and giving the sermon. So far it has been going very well.
Church of the Ascension
At the Church of the Ascension, there is a big emphasis put on engaging the community. The idea is that people will not generally just walk up and ask to be involved, you have to reach out to them and inspire them to be a part of what you have going on. From what I heard it seems they have been very successful. Vacation Bible School (VBS) is very big at the Ascension. This year there were 48 young people participating in the program and 25 people assisting, only three of which were paid staff. And it wasn’t just parents/grandparents of the kids in the program, there were youth (ages 12-18) as well as professionals, one person even took a week off of work just to be a part of VBS!
Ascension is also trying to engage older youth through a program called “”Saturday night into Sunday morning” where they have music artists, conversation and fellowship on Saturday night, following up with service on Sunday, in an attempt to tie together the atmosphere of Saturday night with a contemporary service Sunday morning to show this age group that there is more to going to church than what they remember of the conservative, boring services they may have attended as kids.
At St. Thomas’s there is a book club on Sunday mornings during the church service. The senior and junior high kids both do different book studies during this time, which is a bit of a twist on the traditional Sunday School lesson approach. This seems to be overcoming the apathy and nonchalance of kids, this time has become a safe haven, they know they can talk about anything and it will be kept in confidence. This program is very effective at reaching these youth.
They have also recently redone the youth area in the parish hall to update the look and make it more relevant to what happens there. Now, all the rooms have been redone in themes appropriate for the group, one is Noah’s ark, another is Jonah and the whale, and the senior room is more somber and meditative; it has couches and soon will have TV and computers.
St. Thomas’s also have a youth band which is comprised of all girls. It is called “Leviticus;” there’s about nine of them and they lead the worship once every 6 weeks or so. And it’s not just singing but also doing the readings and having a discussion. Rev. Gail also takes the band on road trips to parishes to which she has been invited and the group also hosts youth rallies.
St. Michael & All Angels
Fr. Sam went to St. Michael’s to reach out to young families and bring younger people to the church, those who had gotten away from the church for one reason or another and those who previously were not regular church goers. He has been working very hard and has been introducing programs that, to the current parishioners initially seemed very odd and he did meet with some resistance.
For instance: He has introduced a family oriented service on Saturdays which is modeled on the “Fresh Expressions Movement” out of England. It is held on Saturday afternoon at 4pm, it lasts about 40 minutes, and is followed by a time for fellowship. There are refreshments (coffee, tea, juice, snacks for young and old alike) when you walk in and toys on the other side of the room, as well as a kids table for colouring and drawing. The kids gather at the toys, parents gather at the coffee, and community building occurs. The mass takes place in the back of the church around the font, which has a Eucharist cover over it. This layout brings the whole faith journey together: the font is where our faith journey begins, and the table is where it is nourished. The Gospel is read and presented visually as well, sermons are multimedia, and the message is simple: “God loves you.” They discuss what that means for our lives today
St. Michael’s also has a Saturday afternoon program called “Messy Church”, modeled on the Vacation Bible School format, with songs and activities all centered on a theme, but it takes place for a couple of hours on Saturday instead of during a whole week. Like life, it is unstructured and a little chaotic but it is a great time for parents to spend some quality time with their kids in a safe place and have fun and learn about God and the Bible and Jesus. They have been getting an increasingly large turnout, and currently stand at about 65 participants.
Each of the churches is employing different tactics to reach out to young people and young families and they are all seeing success. It just goes to show that different things work for different people and you just have to keep on trying until you find what works for you.
This concludes our look at the churches in my area, my final piece will be a reflection on what I learned and the questions that remain to be answered…stay tuned!