Jillian Ruch is an Area Youth Ministry Coordinator for the Episcopal Area of York-Scarborough and chair of the Archbishop’s Youth Ministry Committee (AYMC).
If I told you only that AYMC is a committee that meets monthly to strategize about youth ministry in the diocese, that would be true but probably a little boring! We are so much more than that. Every time we meet, we lessen the kilometres between us and recognize that as youth leaders in different churches, we get excited and struggle about the same things. Our strength comes from our collective sense of humour and mind. We are a strong committee with a membership of about 12 people, including the four other youth ministry coordinators (Ian Physick, Alexandra MacIntosh, Nancy Hannah and the Rev. Christian Harvey) and seven volunteers. At the heart of our meetings, we share in our love of Jesus and youth and have many laughs along the way. As chair, I am a link between the committee, the Diocesan Centre and the youth ministers on the ground doing the work. I also meet with Bishop Jenny Andison, our link bishop.
We always seem to be cooking up plans that will help build capacity in our diocese for youth ministry to flourish. We are about to go on retreat to Muskoka Woods at the end of September, which always proves to be exciting, hilarious, tiring and inspiring – all at the same time. We are also working on Interface, a social justice event planned for Oct. 13. Lastly and probably most importantly, we are working together to form a strategic plan for how we can equip those who are working in youth ministry, how we can engage the wider church in bolstering youth ministry, and how we can communicate all the awesomeness that our youth ministers are doing while harnessing the power of our youth to enact change in our church communities.
It’s so hard to choose the best thing about working with youth because there are so many. They ask incredibly honest questions about their faith and about why we do what we do every Sunday. They are insightful beyond their years and ask the questions that adults on a regular Sunday would never ask, like “Who really wrote the Bible?” or “Why are there so many names for things in our church?” Youth have been called by many the “research and development department” that inform our church practices.
One of the hardest things about working with youth is that they are often committed to other things in their already very scheduled lives. This can prove difficult as they can’t always commit until the very last minute to come to an event. But, when they are supported by their families, youth have the intrinsic ability to become valued, engaged and sparkling members of their congregations.
I was born in Toronto and have lived many places since then, from Calgary to Pearl River (New York), London (United Kingdom) and have settled back in Toronto. I have a social work degree and my current full-time position is as a child welfare supervisor in Toronto. Prior to that position, I also worked in various settings such as group homes, camps and schools for children with behavioural issues.
My spiritual journey has been a winding one. I now know that God was always knocking but I did not open the door to Him until I was 23. The most important milestone was when I walked into a church and asked to speak to a priest. After patiently answering my many questions, the priest invited me to an adult confirmation class; I accepted, was confirmed and became a part of my church’s community, volunteering with our youth group. I found my volunteering experience overwhelmingly positive and gained so much knowledge from the youth, through learning about their faith journeys and listening to their questions. I began asking harder theological questions myself. This, along with my own discerning, led me to begin a Master of Theological Studies to really understand my faith on a deeper level. I am now only five courses away from graduating, which is really exciting. My faith now is as deep as it has ever been and I truly understand, through my life experiences, that it is only through God’s strength that I can move through my every day.
Five years from now seems very far away! I find this a difficult question as my life is going through a transition period with the sudden death of my mother in December 2017. But in five years, I will be the mother of two teenage boys, and we will still have our sailing boat and will have enjoyed a few more long-distance cruises on Lake Ontario. As for career plans, in five years I will be a child welfare supervisor and still enjoying my area coordinator job, even more than now, as youth ministry will be thriving and a firm network of youth ministers will have been built across the diocese.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 is my favorite passage from scripture. This became my favorite passage in March, 2015. I was in a season of sadness, having just lost my grandmother and experiencing a difficult incident at work. I went on a silent retreat at the convent for some stillness in the midst of a lot of external noise. During contemplative prayer in the morning, Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 was the selected reading. God gave me the gift of hearing a passage I did not know, at the exact time that I could hear and use His words. This passage stays with me as I am going through another season and have the confidence to know that this season shall also come to an end and the cycle will continue, all with God’s help and guidance.