“A Church without youth is a Church without a future. Moreover, youth without a Church are youth without a future.” Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria (1921-2012)
As the parents of three teenage daughters, my husband Tim and I are conscious of how teenagers are not simply the Church of tomorrow, which of course they are, but also the Church of the present. We are also keenly aware of the wonderful opportunity that parishes in our diocese have for helping shape teenagers as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Many North American studies indicate that the majority of Christians first began their journeys of faith before the age of 18, and that sharing the good news of God in Christ with others during their childhoods and teenage years can be particularly powerful. This should come as no surprise. During the critical years of late adolescence – a period when individuals are forming their understanding of the world around them, and are really trying to figure out their place in that world – it can be truly life-transforming for a person to hear that God loves them just the way they are (and that because of that love, God has no intention of leaving them that way!). I also believe that the message that our churches can offer – that there is a God who loves us, and who wants to partner with us to help transform the unjust structures in our society and to help create communities of hope and healing – is something that teenagers just might get out of bed for!
We have an opportunity in the coming years to make youth ministry a top priority in our parishes. In the past year, as I have gotten to know the churches of York-Credit Valley, I have seen numerous parishes that already have creative and dedicated ministries for teenagers, and others that currently offer little in this area. No matter where any parish might sit on this continuum, I believe that the Holy Spirit has a great deal in store for any church that decides to refocus its attention, energies and resources onto youth and youth ministry. I also believe that youth ministry needs to be a clear priority, not because of the aging demographics of our churches but because youth are human beings desperately in need of God’s love and mercy. Our strategic plan, Growing in Christ, has identified leadership and formation as one of its key priorities. Let us join in prayer together that we will seek transformative ways to shape in Christian love and wisdom the next generation of young leaders for our Church.
What this means practically will differ from parish to parish. Some might hire a youth minister to strengthen and expand an existing youth program; many denominations that are planting churches in Canada make the hiring of a youth minister the essential second hire after the senior cleric. Our Diocesan Youth Ministry Apprenticeship Program (YMAP) has produced many fine youth ministers currently serving in our parishes, and YMAP can be expanded. Other parishes, which may have a handful of teens, might begin a mentoring program, where older parishioners will befriend teens and begin to read the scriptures with them and look for ways to serve together. And parishes in neighbourhoods where there are currently few teenagers might decide to partner with a parish in the Canadian north, to help financially support its existing youth ministry.
Whatever our context, there is work that God calls each of us to do in sharing with teenagers the joy that is already ours. “For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth” (Psalm 71:5).