The rain has stopped, but the evidence of the fall downpour is still obvious as we look out the ministry office at St. John’s Anglican Church in Peterborough, Ontario. I’m sitting down to talk with Christian Harvey, the Youth Worker at St. John’s and the Youth Coordinator for the Episcopal Area of Trent-Durham. Christian has been the Youth Worker at St. John’s for almost 6 years and has a Bachelor degree in Religious Education. He’s involved in social justice in Peterborough and we’re here this morning to talk about my one of my favourite topics: Youth Ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada.
(M. R.) So, Christian, Good morning! To start off, tell me about what you do here at St. John’s and in Peterborough.
(C. H.) I’m the youth worker here at St. John’s Anglican Church in Peterborough. By being a youth worker, I spend a lot of my time outside of the church. I work in the schools, so I go and I hang out. I run a drum program here at the church for anybody from five…well, actually I have no age limits, we have people that range in age from five to seventy-five. I run a cooking program for youth who are in the community and who want to make a difference. I am starting a housing program for youth, where they can get involved in issues regarding housing. And, I work quite a bit ecumenically with other youth ministers.
(M. R.) How did you get started in Youth Ministry?
(C. H.) I was playing in a rock and roll band and, while I was doing that, I decided I wanted to volunteer. So, I volunteered at the junior-high group at the church I was going to at the time; I was in the senior high group and I volunteered there for quite a long time. Then, at one point, they gave me part-time work doing some stuff with the junior-high and eventually the youth pastor left and they hired me on full-time for a little bit. My job was then terminated there (he says laughing), but I was then hired here at St. John’s and that was six years ago. But I started youth ministry just through following other youth workers.
(M. R.) What brought you to the Anglican Church?
(C. H.) Well, job termination helps (again, he says laughing). Well, part of what happened was that I grew up in the Pentecostal Church and there were a lot of great things that happened there for me, a lot of who I am today was because of that. However, there were certain issues that I couldn’t resolve with my self; I felt like I couldn’t question certain things. I knew that I would never, because of that, be a minister and that was something I felt like I was called to do. So, when my job was no longer in the Pentecostal church, I got a call from John Stephenson, who was a priest here at St. John’s. He was also one of my professors at the Pentecostal bible college. After that he became an Anglican priest and gave me a call. He said that he heard I wasn’t working and said that if I wanted to work for him… ‘Anglican’ never meant anything to me but I was pretty pumped to work with John, he’s a really smart guy and it ended up that I really liked the Anglican Church. I liked the freedom to be able to question and be in communion with people who believed different things, and to push each other to grow in different ways.
(M. R.) What’s your favourite aspect about working in YM?
(C. H.) I love the relational part, I love just being able to build relationships with youth and I love pushing them to examine whatever they believe; whether they’re Christian or non-Christian, to push them and help them journey into new areas of belief. Through that, I find, I’m also pushed in new ways as well so that’s pretty fantastic. And, I love getting youth excited about changing their community. So, those are probably my favourite things…and Fussball.
(M. R.) What are some challenges you have in YM?
(C. H.) Well, I’m very lucky here at St. John’s in that they’re very open to allow me to do all kinds of creative things…but I know that when it comes to working with other youth workers out side of St. John’s, that sometimes people see youth ministry as one certain way doing things. They see it as being a ministry that is there to continue the church. That it’s there to serve the church rather than youth ministry being something being about actually ministering to the needs of the community that are important. So, sometimes I find that challenging, when people are not willing to think beyond “youth group”, beyond traditional, ‘gather on a Friday night’, because that doesn’t always meet the needs of youth. Also, trying to integrate youth with the larger community I find is difficult. Getting them to find something more…I don’t know if relevant is the word, or engaging, but finding something that has to do with them personally…I sometimes find that difficult.
(M. R.) Where do you think YM needs to move in the Anglican Church?
(C. H.) I think in the Anglican Church (Youth Ministry) needs to move to a more missional way of doing ministry. Right now, we’re stuck in this Attractional model of youth ministry, where we build something for youth to come to. Missional youth ministry is about going to where youth are and finding out about where they are in their lives, and what the Spirit is doing there and then building upon that. I think that’s really important. We have to leave the notions of youth ministry being about getting the youth into the church and, instead, bringing the Gospel into our communities. As our youth groups become smaller and smaller, which they do. As the amount of youth present in our churches becomes smaller and smaller, we need to look at new ways of engaging youth. Sometimes, that won’t take place in the church building, or that it may not happen in the traditional ways that it has in the past.
(M. R.) I know in a lot of your work here at St. John’s, and a lot of who you are, is wrapped up in social justice and helping communities. Do you see a natural link between youth ministry and social justice?
(C. H.) I think that there is a natural link and it happens when youth begin to see who Jesus really is. We follow a Christ who preached on transforming the world; who preached that everyone, whether they’re at the bottom of what society sees or at the top, that we’re all created equally in the image of God. He spoke out against any system that would try and stop that, which would try and ruin that belief or that would say that some people are more important than others. Jesus railed against that sort of system. Youth, as well, I think are opposed to these oppressive systems that we have in the world; these oppressive regimes, these oppressive ways that we live. That’s not to say that youth are free of them either, but I know that often they see them and they want to do something to change it. They’re idealists, and that’s awesome!
I think if we can introduce these passionate youth to the passionate Jesus, then justice will automatically flow. I also think that the sense youth have in wanting to do something to change the world, that’s the Holy Spirit present in them whether they know it or not. I think if we can come and direct that and help them to realize that need, that want, in their lives; I think that is what youth ministry is all about. Helping youth to discern the Spirit in their midst and when we engage that need to do justice, we’re introducing them to the Gospel.
(M. R.) Along those same lines, what are some suggestions you have that youth leaders across Canada can do to get youth involved in social justice?
(C. H.)I think that what youth leaders really need to do is spend the time to learn about the community that they live in. Spend time learning about what is going on. Your town has issues, every town does, and unless you see your self as a part of that community, then you’re always going to be outside of what’s happening. But, if you can spend some time just trying to figure out what’s going on, who are being marginalized in this city, or this neighborhood. Who are the ones being crushed. Who are the ones that need to be raised up? What can the youth do to meet those needs? I think it also has to come from the youth. What are the issues that get your youth fired up? What are the issues that get them angry and what can stem from that? I’ve tried to do it different ways and the way that has gotten the best reaction and the most commitment from youth is when you say, “What is it that you get angry about? What is it that you see around you and you just feel is not right? What do you see are ways that we can help or heal that?” I think that when it comes from the youth and you help to facilitate changing those issues and working towards those issues, I think that’s when you’ll really start to see a change in the community. That’s when you’re really are able to engage youth in social justice ministries.
(M. R.) Lastly, are there some ideas that you have for YM that you haven’t yet got the chance to do?
(C. H) I really would love to have a center for the Arts and creativity and Peterborough. I’ve always felt that would be cool. I haven’t done a big trip or pilgrimage with youth and that would be really great.
Well, thank you for your time this morning, it’s been great!
For more information about Christian Harvey’s ministry or to book him for a speaking event, please visit the St. John’s Anglican Church website: http://www.stjohnspeterborough.ca/youth