Cross-Canada youth ministry hurt by economic freefall

By on May 1, 2009

National youth ministry co-ordinator Judy Steers urged the Canadian house of bishops to “stay the course” and “advocate for consistency” in their youth ministry commitments, saying that affirming them as a priority without providing support only leads to “a high degree of disillusionment.” “There’s a rising tide of commitment to youth initiatives at the diocesan level, but there’s a little insidious thing that’s part of an age-old problem that we have that youth ministries are the most susceptible to the financial climate,” Ms. Steers said. Youth ministry “is often the last thought of and the first eliminated in budget priorities,” she said. But it is also the “sporadic, fits and starts commitment” that is often “damaging and more counter-productive than having no structured youth ministry,” she said. Ms. Steers said a lot of things “are coming into momentum” following the Generation 2008 youth gathering, where 27 dioceses sent representatives. There is a realization, she said that “youth ministry is best done at the local level. The idea is not to bring back a national youth ministry just like the ’70s and ’80s but to create a national network,” she said. “I want you to know that what happens in your diocese affects the network,” said Ms. Steers, adding that if many dioceses decide to pull the plug on youth ministry, given the global economic downturn, the impact would be grave. “If many of us go into it at the same time too many boats will sink and networks we’ve established will get lost,” she said. Several bishops reacted to Ms. Steers’ presentation by saying that while they understood the need for consistency of financial commitments, the current global economic crisis has made this difficult to accomplish. “There are dioceses that are literally in economic freefall. It’s that severe,” said Bishop Don Phillips, of the diocese of Rupert’s Land. But he acknowledged that “we don’t want to create havoc by simply cutting.” Bishop Michael Ingham of the diocese of New Westminster said his diocese had to cut $300,000 out of its budget because of poor returns on investment income resulting from the global economic meltdown. “We decided not to cut our apportionment to General Synod and not to let go of our hospital chaplains. But four of our 17 staff have been laid off,” he said. They include the co-ordinators for the youth, congregational development, environment, and social networks. “All could make the same case that you made,” said Bishop Ingham. “Those were painful choices.” He added that two youth members of the diocesan council had told him that as difficult as the decision had been, “we get it.” Ms. Steers responded by saying that “commitment doesn’t always mean money. It can be support for training; it’s more about vision.” Other bishops asked, “What would be helpful in order to maintain network’s energy and momentum? Are there other creative ways that they can be maintained to avoid a disillusionment cycle?”Some bishops offered suggestions, including Bishop David Ashdown of the diocese of Keewatin, who said that his diocese partnered with the First Nations and found other sponsors for its successful cross-cultural youth program.Bishop Sue Moxley of the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island said funding for her diocese’s youth ministry does not come from the diocesan coffers. Money was raised for it during a capital campaign launched by the diocese in recent years. “Foundations backed it up. It was a key priority and they wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “The diocese has benefited because of its consistent commitment. That young people know that the bishop is on their side is important and produces huge results.”

Author

  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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