Progressive Youth Ministry Conference – It actually exists. Every winter, like-minded folks gather for 4 days of inspiration, collaboration, and celebration, all designed to strengthen our ministry with students, both children and youth. These youth workers are both clergy and lay, professional and volunteer, young and well-seasoned. They are from all over the map and, mostly, mainline churches.
Although we have attended this conference before, this year it felt especially well-timed. As our congregation walks through the Strategic Planning Process, it was affirming and encouraging to realize we are on the “right track” with the changing nature of student ministry.
The theme of the conference this year was “Faith in the Age of Reason.” Acknowledging that we live in a culture that expects every mystery to be solvable, given enough time and CSI skills, the church is having difficulty finding its place. But as speaker after speaker reminded us, every answer to every question raises more questions. Every answer drives the mystery deeper. And life continues to present us with quandaries like: Who am I? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why don’t the people I pray for always get better? Why am I getting bullied at school? Why are school children in Nigeria being kidnapped from their classrooms? How can I make a difference in the world?
It is in these spaces, these mysteries, the church needs to stand, the church’s people need to stand. We need to stand with poetry and prayer, scripture and silence, music and art, ritual and, above all, relationship. We stand in the spaces with each other, most especially with our children and youth.
Students don’t need more programs. They are programmed to the hilt – sports (school and club), arts (dance, music, drama), school projects, and service organizations, even the internet and social media provide programs for short attention spans. What our students need is space for their questions and caring adults to stand with them in the mysteries.
Of course, how that happens is continually evolving. But what has been reaffirmed for us is this: Student Ministry needs to be organic, meeting students where they are and addressing their interests and needs. It needs to be relational, with a wide array of church folks to walk, work, and wonder alongside them. It needs to be safe space, where diversity is not just welcome, but celebrated. And it needs to be willing to stand in the margins of life and society, moving beyond the “bubble” and walls of the church. Students are far less likely to come to the church than they are to welcome the church that comes to them.
Won’t you please join us as we explore what this all means for our community?
With joyful anticipation,
Dawna Welch and Janet Ober Lambert