Earlier in the year, before pandemic or COVID-19 or coronavirus was part of our daily lexicon, Amy Crawford, Team Leader Faith Formation and Mission at the General Council Office, invited Youth and Young Adult ministers for The United Church of Canada from across the country to study Andrew Root’s brand-new book, The End of Youth Ministry? Why Parents Don’t Really Care about Youth Groups and What Youth Workers Should Do about It.
I was grateful for the invitation as I often don’t engage in youth ministry directly, I do support it and, as program coordinator for ministry recruitment, I like to know what’s going on with youth ministry. Our group was made up of Catherine Stuart (Minister for Children, Youth and Young Adults, Fundy St. Lawrence Dawning Waters, Regional Council 15, and First Dawn Eastern Edge Regional Councils), Kathy Douglas (Faith Formation Minister, Antler Watershed, Horseshoe Falls and Western Ontario Waterways Regional Councils), Twila MacNair (Coordinator of Young Adult and Youth Ministry, Prairie to Pine Regional Council), Pamela Evans (Regional Minister, Youth and Young Adults for Pacific Mountain Regional Council), and several others from coast to coast.
In mid-March, everything changed. We were suddenly all working from home, unable to gather in person. For our group, that did not actually make a huge difference as we would be meeting by online conference call anyway, and so, a group of us persevered. I am glad that we did. Not only was it great to explore this book with those engaging in youth ministry in various contexts across the country, it was also just great to connect and contemplate how youth ministry might be reinvented in these strange times.
Root’s book circles around a fundamental question: Youth ministry is for ____________. Root finds a variety of answers as he speaks with youth leaders, youth, and parents of youth: God, not wasting one’s life, fun. The answer that sticks with him and eventually dominates his vision for the future of youth ministry is joy: Youth Ministry is for Joy. Not happiness, or fun, or entertainment, but joy. Joy that comes from talking about real experiences of people’s connections and understandings of God. He posits that youth today, or maybe even more so adults, are obsessed with being happy. And that happiness as an aim or ultimate goal is unfulfilling because it is impossible to maintain and doesn’t really add any value or meaning to a person’s identity.
Identity and happiness are huge themes in this book and Root argues that they can really only be found through joy, through appreciating and connecting with what really matters. He holds up a specific youth group that has developed a group called “The Waiting Room,” which invites various people of all ages and backgrounds from the congregation to share their faith stories. This group was inspired by faithful sharing of stories about pain, regret, and forgiveness that first occurred in a hospital waiting room while one of the youth recovered from a serious illness. The group also holds a monthly vigil where spiritual practices of prayer, silence, and joy are practiced and lived out.
In the end, I’m not sure the book actually offers anything specific that a youth ministry should or should not do, other than orient any program or event for youth around something other than fun. Focus on making real connections and building real community through sharing authentic stories and questions of faith.
I didn’t find this conclusion revolutionary. But perhaps it is important for us all to ask on a regular basis, youth ministry is for ____________. Ministry is for ____________. If we struggle to answer these questions, perhaps we need to take the time to wrestle out the answer the way that Root has done.
— Rev. bcorlett [at] united-church.ca (Bronwyn Corlett), Program Coordinator, Ministry Recruitment at the General Council Office. Find out more about the call to ministry in The United Church of Canada and also follow us on "God's World Needs Leaders" Facebook page.