Heather Pearson, a participant at the Generation 2008 youth ministry conference, does some African drumming during a drumming, dancing and storytelling exercise.
Ministry to youth – in all its glory, frustration, joy and difficulties – was the focus of a six-day conference called Generation 2008 – Empower, Renew, Equip, held from June 10 to 15 at Huron University College in London, Ont.
“I came to brainstorm, seek reassurance, build new ideas and deepen my own understanding of youth ministry,” said Canon Sue Mayoss-Hurd in an interview. She is rector of St. Margaret’s church, Peachland, in the British Columbia diocese of Kootenay.
About 160 people attended for all or some of the conference, said the organizer, Judy Steers, co-ordinator of youth initiatives at General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office in Toronto.
During one typical day at the conference, which included workshops, plenary sessions featuring speakers and community-building physical exercises on the college lawns, participants described ministry to teenagers and young adults as one of the most rewarding aspects of church life – and one of the most demanding.
“I need some new ideas, a new outlook, a rekindling of the energy,” said Mark Grandmaison, a lay member of St. Francis, Lower Sackville, N.S. in the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. “There is a danger that you can burn out, doing it so long. You repeat the same thing. It’s intense; it takes energy,” said Ms. Mayoss-Hurd.
Mr. Grandmaison said he particularly appreciated a talk by Reggie Blount, associate professor of formation, youth and culture at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., on The Seven Spiritual Yearnings of Youth.
Mr. Blount explained the physical development of the teenage brain – impulse centers develop before analytical centers – and said young people yearn for “identity, intimacy, purpose, healing, mentoring, nurturing and courage.”
They want to know, “What does it mean to belong to God?” said Mr. Blount. They also ask, “Whose am I?” and “Why am I here?”, he said.
Mr. Grandmaison, in an interview, said Mr. Blount’s talk articulated what he had already sensed as a youth worker in his parish. “I knew it, but I didn’t know I knew it (before he heard Mr. Blount),” he said.
Mr. Blount also spoke of healing as an essential component of youth ministry since many young people “have experienced some level of brokenness.” Participants in the conference agreed, telling of “healing stations” at a Teens Encounter Christ event, of support from a church community at the death of a girl’s mother, of reaching out to a young man who had chosen life on the streets of Vancouver. “It is a huge part of this ministry,” said one attendee.
Georgianna Low, who is on the board of directors of Braeburn Christian Camp in Whitehorse, Yukon, diocese of the Yukon, came to hear the national indigenous bishop, Mark MacDonald, talk about ministering to aboriginal youth. “People are getting inspiration from him. We draw strength from him,” she commented. Ms. Low is a member of the Carcross Tagish First Nation.
Bishop MacDonald said ministry with First Nations youth “is a relationship and not a program.” Life “does not proceed on a clock as much,” he said and told of four years’ work to build a youth ministry on a reserve. Patience and love are also essential qualities, he said.
Both Ms. Mayoss-Hurd and Mr. Grandmaison spoke of the rewards of youth ministry. Mr. Grandmaison said he was able to see the results of youth ministry in a girl who became less selfish. Ms. Mayoss-Hurd said that “the kids give back in so many different ways. We did a 20-hour fast for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund at a sleepover in our church. The kids were saying that they now knew what it felt like to be hungry, and they knew they were doing it by choice,” she said.