Youth delegates rock B.C. synod

Phil Colvin, youth coordinator for the diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver. Photo courtesy of Phil Colvin
Phil Colvin, youth coordinator for the diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver. Photo courtesy of Phil Colvin
Published July 19, 2011

For some time, the youth of the diocese of New Westminster have been digging deep into church government, and this year’s May synod is just the latest example. Diocesan youth coordinator Phil Colvin knows the story and, in fact, is one of the driving forces behind this phenomenon.

Colvin, originally from the U.K., graduated college with a degree in English and creative writing in 2003 and spent time as a chaplaincy assistant at the University of Bristol. In 2006, Colvin happened to meet up with Angus Stewart, one of his former university chaplaincy coworkers. Stuart is now the incumbent at St. Francis-in-the-Wood in West Vancouver.

Stuart encouraged Colvin to become youth director at St. Francis, a position that had long been vacant. Although he had no direct youth ministry experience, Colvin had worked in summer camps and done volunteer placements working with young people in Brazil and India.

When Colvin went on board at St. Francis, the diocesan synod had had youth delegates for many years, but their involvement was limited. “They might be asked to read prayers to show that they were there, but there wasn’t actually any interaction with the business of synod,” he says.

And then two youth workers, Mark Hainsworth and Samantha Cawker, had a bright idea-why not host a sleepover for the youth delegates between the two days of synod, during which they could learn about how synod works and what synod aims to accomplish.

For some time, youth in the diocese had felt isolated in their parishes and saw the need for a diocese-wide youth coordinator. Inspired to action, the young delegates drew up their own motion and put it before synod. Members of synod, overjoyed to see young people getting involved, readily passed the motion.

After a year, however, nothing had been done to translate the motion into reality. So the youth delegates decided to dig in. They got involved in diocesan committees and as a group became what is now the diocese’s youth committee. They determined the costs of the proposal, what needed to be done and who needed to be involved and came back to synod with a new motion in 2009. This time the motion stuck and the youth coordinator position was created. Colvin, who had been involved with the diocesan youth committee, helped put together the proposal for the youth coordinator position he now holds.

At this year’s synod, youth involvement was still going strong. Even without specific youth issues on the agenda, young delegates continued to participate as full and active members of synod-standing up to speak on motions, voting and engaging with the process of church government.

“There’s a lot of good work that goes on, that Phil has done, but also has been done before him, and the young people do participate in the synod, they get involved in the debates,” says the Rt. Rev. Michael Ingham, bishop of the diocese of New Westminster. “They argue vehemently, passionately for and against the resolutions being debated. They’re a real presence in our synod. They’re a real factor, and people listen to them…. Because there are so few young people in church these days, the ones who do come and speak up are given a very good and respectful hearing by the adult delegates.”

For Colvin, this act of introducing synod to youth and vice versa is a simple and vital act of youth ministry that many parishes are missing out on. “Maybe they believe they don’t truly have a relationship with young people enough that they would dare invite them to this ‘long boring church meeting,’ ” he says. “But hopefully what we’re beginning to demonstrate is that there is youth ministry that goes on in synod.”


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