CHURCH YOUTH & COVID-19

As with most of the world, my life was turned upside down mid-March.   I should have realized how the spring would unfold when the first trip was cancelled.  I have been a Director within Youth Ministry for over fourteen years and yearly, I would travel to the Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry.  It is a week of intense workshops, awesome speakers and fellowship with my cohorts.  Booked and paid for by December, the event was being held the last week of April.  My husband and I make it into a mini vacation by adding a side trip to Boston, or New York or Philadelphia. We have explored the New Jersey shore, been on board the USS New Jersey, been to the top of the Empire State building and a visit to Ground Zero… and now, that was gone.

The next hit was our very first trip to Europe, booked for us to leave May 8 to attend the wedding of a girl who had been in my youth group.  She was excited to invite us to her wedding in Bavaria for May 16, unfortunately, the church cancelled her wedding in March and it has since been re-booked for the end of August.

My work has me in contact with youth on a daily basis.  I would spend half my week within the walls of the secondary schools in the area.  The relationships created with the youth would continue well past high school and into university… and beyond, thus explaining the trip to Germany.  These youth are like my children and this pandemic has changed my life completely, as it has their lives.  Graduation ceremonies on hold, proms cancelled, final exams in the air, post-secondary education uncertain and a health scare of the likes that they had never seen before, are what they are facing now.  The time I spend with them at school would be during their free time and at lunchtime because the entire idea of faith within the family and church has changed over the last few decades. Sports, extracurricular activities, training, tutoring, trips for tournaments all seem more important than Church or Youth Group.  If they are not coming to Church, bring the Church to them.

Andrew Root, a well-known author, professor of Youth & Family Ministry at Lutheran Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota and an international speaker on theology and youth ministry, explains well how this turn of events occurred in an article for the British Church Times, dated April 17, 2020.

“The question “What is youth ministry for?” is important, particularly in middle-class settings, because, during the past decade or so, congregational youth ministry has not fared very well. The waning of youth ministry has not, however, been caused by a frontal attack: there have not been petitions or speeches calling for the ending of youth ministry.

Rather, next to all other opportunities and activities in children’s lives, youth ministry has slid down the scale of importance; just ask any youth worker. In the autumn, parents make a commitment to getting their children to a youth group or confirmation, but, when things get busy in October, the same parents tell youth workers that their child just does not have time. Basketball, test preparation, piano practice, or any other dozen activities will keep them from participating in youth-group activities. During the past two decades, the youth group has lost its prominent place in families’ schedules.

Ironically and counter-intuitively, however, this slide seems to be concurrent with parental involvement. Over the past generation or so, as parents have become more involved in their children’s activities, youth ministry has had less hold over families’ time and attention. We could say that young people are less committed to youth groups not because parents are less concerned for the future of their children, but because they are more concerned.”

Looking at Professor Root’s observations, we need to add the electronic world to the situation.  The Youth have their devices in hand, non-stop, their schoolwork is now being done on the web and screen time is at an all-time high.  It is not that the Professor has omitted that portion, he has written sixteen books on the topic of youth & ministry. He uses social media constantly and has a good following.  He is an avid TV watcher, confesses to binge watching, and in view of what is happening now, has strongly suggested you binge watch the Netflix drama “Stranger Things”.  The show demonstrates how adults did parenting in the 1980’s, very much hands off. In Professor Root’s words “The daily routine meant you provided meals, a basement and curfew.” The rest of the time, youth were sent out to be with friends, explore their world and grow.

But today, things have changed from that idyllic time.  No longer are children allowed to just go off with their friends.  Parents insist on driving them there and picking them up.  Relationships are formed with their parents over a quick breakfast, on the drive to school or sports and a few moments before bed.  No real mention of faith or Church.  The “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has given away to “what is in it for me”. 

The mainstay of the Church life in the summer is Church camp and this week, the governments across the board, have cancelled all sleepover camps to the dismay of many parents, children and Churches.  Cabins and canoes will remain vacant for this summer. The opportunity to grow in their faith while in a Christian camp setting, has vanished.

This time of isolation and self-quarantine maybe the opportunity for parents and Youth to spend time together, possibly at an online Church service or a Zoom youth group meeting.  The Youth can rediscover the world around them without electronics, without sports teams and take time to pause.  For all the scheduling and plans in the past have left little time for youth to unwind, stop, smell the roses and drink in Mother Nature.  Always plugged in, they have not learned to unplug and get to know themselves better.

To unplug, stop and smell the roses, be with nature.  I have been speaking about youth but what about you?  Have you taken the time to re-boot yourself, read a book, get to know the you that you have not seen since your teens?  I always felt that reading was luxury to do once everything else was done.  Do you have time now to read or garden or create?  Let me know.

On a post note, Andy Root has been a visiting professor here in Canada as well as Princeton and I have attended many of his lectures over the years. 

Article on Andrew Root
https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles2020/17-april/features/features/love-for-our-children-in-the-time-of-covid-19

More information about Youth and Covid-19 coping skills
https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/naming-loss-and-gratitude-with-young-people

Photo Credits Unsplash.com 
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