At an age when church becomes boring and starts losing priority over hockey practice or sleeping in, the youth group at Ottawa’s Christ Church, aka the Holy Terrors, has been defying the trends and growing both in number and in popularity.
Felan Parker says that the youth, who range in age from 13 to 18, are often having so much fun that they forget they are also helping out both the community and their own cathedral home.
“Yeah, when we are cleaning out Centre 454 (a drop-in for homeless people) we start squirting each other with water and just have a blast, so it doesn’t seem like work” said Mr. Parker, 18, in an interview.
In fact, the group’s emphasis on both having fun and doing good works seems to be the magic formula for a successful youth group. That, and good leadership, provided by youth co-ordinator Patricia (Trish) Fuller, a mother of three teenagers.
The group originated from a confirmation class that did not want to split up in 1999, went from there to a beach party in summer, and then on to a triumphant entry in Winterlude’s snow sculpture contest. The win also netted $800 for the Ottawa Food Bank and the Handicapped Accessibility Fund at the cathedral.
They have also raised $23,000 from an annual golf tournament for programs for some 650 destitute people in the Ottawa area. And for four years running, the Terrors, who made a big splash one year paddling in their pajamas, were the only teen group in the Rideau Canal Canoe Race for Kids; they raised $4,600 for the Christie Lake Camp for underprivileged children.
The Terrors have developed such cachet that 12 year-olds start marking time until the day they turn 13 and can join the group. Mr. Parker said they now have 34 members. “My little sister could hardly wait because she knew all the cool stuff we were doing,” he said.
The group has only one procedural rule – they meet for dinner the first Friday of every month, Ms. Fuller said
“We picked Friday because it was choir practice and a lot of them sing in the choir,” Ms. Fuller said.
The youth group has in some cases replaced the youths’ school peer groups as the most important one in their lives, said Canon William Fairlie, who is in charge of youth ministry for the cathdral. The group, he added, cuts across social and economic classes, which means it often quietly provides financial help for those who cannot afford an activity.
About 16 Terrors are planning to participate in an upcoming Bytown Brigantine program over four days in June, said Mr. Parker. The group will drive south to Kingston, Ont., and sail back to Ottawa on the Britannia Yacht Club’s two tall ships, acting as full crew and doing all the work.
Mr. Parker, who will “graduate” from the group when he turns 19, said the cathedral has started a young adults group so that 20-somethings are not isolated.
“We’ve gone out to a hockey game, out for breakfast after services,” he said. He is still part of the Holy Terrors, too. “We decided to have a year’s grace period for people like me. We don’t kick anyone out.”
[pullquote]Ms. Fuller said the cathedral teens had long needed something to pull them together.
“They were here to work as servers or sing in the choir or teach Sunday school. Originally they had a boys and men’s choir that got together three times a week, but there was not much for the girls until confirmation,” she said. “The kids would eyeball each other on Sundays without knowing each other.”
The group stays away from heavy theology and concentrates on community service and fun. However, “All of them are involved in the cathedral, and they’ve all gone through confirmation. They get religious instruction that way,” said Ms. Fuller.
The group is close-knit, said Mr. Fuller. “Something will come out when it’s bothering them. They will talk about it and the support is immediate and 100 per cent. I’ve never heard a serious put-down. They are careful and caring with each other.”
The group models “right relationships, and strengthens and promotes trust.” She and Canon Fairlie do not lead the group, she insisted. “We provide the platform and facilitate and guide.”