Since late September, 18-year-old Lizzy Jones, of Ottawa, has been working on a unique project: she is collecting the memories and stories of Anglicans from the parish of Metcalfe-Greely & Vernon, which she hopes will form the basis for a film or book.
Like many multi-point rural parishes, Metcalfe-Greely & Vernon is facing some difficult decisions in the near future. Due to declining revenues, one or more of its churches may be forced to close. Should this happen, the memories and recollections Jones is collecting might allow something of their history and impact on the community to live on.
The opportunity-which Jones says has given her a first taste of work in a “professional setting”-is part of a pilot project launched by the diocese of Ottawa earlier this year, the Youth Internship Program, or YIP, as it is affectionately known to those involved.
“I never really wrote professional emails before, and I’m learning a lot about business etiquette,” Jones says, laughing, when asked what she’s learned so far. “[But] it is very open and very safe, and they really help you figure out what’s going on.”
YIP is the brainchild of Donna Rourke, the director for youth ministry at St. James, Manotick, who conceived of the program as a way for high school and university students to learn valuable work skills while gaining a deeper and perhaps more meaningful experience of church.
The pilot, which launched at the beginning of 2016 and will run until June 2017, places youth in their late teens with parishes and faith-based community groups, such as the ecumenical justice group KAIROS and Habitat for Humanity.
For two hours a week, interns get paid office experience, and attend monthly faith formation and leadership sessions with other interns in the program. They are also given a chance to learn how to conduct themselves in job interviews and other work-related skills.
Their employers, on the other hand, can put their interns to work on projects like the one Jones is undertaking, which they might not have time for otherwise.
Rourke says the idea for the program came to her following a lecture at Carleton University by Tom Sherwood, a professor and United Church minister, about how and why youth become involved or stay involved in faith communities.
Sherwood argued that while churches have often turned to worship and education in their efforts to grow and retain congregations, most young people are drawn to church for the sense of community belonging.
“Youth who are an active part of the church community…end up experiencing attachment to the church and that promotes their membership in the future,” said Rourke. The internships are a way of helping youth feel that they not only belong, but are valued members of their communities, she noted.
But the internships also have an important spiritual dimension.
The Rev. Kerri Brennan, who was rector of Metcalfe-Greely & Vernon when Jones was hired and is on the steering committee, said the program plays a vital role in making the church “an accessible place for young people to come and feel welcome, wherever they are in their faith, to explore that deeper with each other and with lay people and ordained clergy.”
Rourke agreed, noting that the Christian formation elements of the program were expanded for the second group of interns at the request of the interns themselves. When asked how the program could be improved, each of the first six interns suggested including Christian mentors who could help them navigate their own spiritual journeys.
“You could have just sent me flying! I never expected them to say that,” said Rourke.
The second group of interns, eight in total, now have mentors, and Jones noted how important a part of the experience this has been.
“The YIP program focuses a lot on growing your faith as a young Christian person,” she said. “I take away that I’m not alone.”
Krista Hum, who was part of the first batch of interns, also spoke fondly about the Christian formation elements of the program.
“I’ve done other volunteer work and other leadership programs…but none of them were specifically faith-centred, and it was very different to be part of a thing that involved faith as well,” she said.
While Rourke has secured funding only until June 2017, when the pilot winds down, she is hopeful this will not be the end of YIP.
Anglicans from the dioceses of Huron, Niagara, New Westminster and Toronto have all expressed interest in launching their own versions of this program, and a growing number of parishes within her own diocese are requesting interns.
“I have great hopes for things going forward,” said Rourke. “I have faith in this.”