Taking the Next Step in Youth Safety

It’s finally time to take our next step to keep kids safe.

For the past two years, Y2AM (the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America) has been hard at work developing an exciting and critical system to help keep children safe.  In early July, the Clergy Laity Congress enthusiastically and unanimously approved these new Policies for the Safety of Youth and Children

This is an exciting time for ministry work in the Archdiocese and, to help you understand what’s next, we’ve answered the most common questions we’ve received about the new Policies:

(NOTE: We've also prepared a short video which you can find at the end of this post.)

Why is youth safety important?

We can’t understand youth safety if we don’t first understand ministry. Ministry, as we continue to stress, is primarily about the person of Jesus Christ. It’s about bringing people to the Lord and inviting them to live out their relationship with Him in the Church.

Ministry is grounded in Christ and oriented towards His Kingdom. And, to be effective, it needs to be done in a safe and healthy environment.

Scandals and distractions can undermine even the best ministry work. Abuse and traumas not only harm young people but also alienate them from the Lord. We simply cannot bring young people to the Lord if we don’t first create ministry environments that are safe, healthy, and above reproach.

That’s exactly what the new Policies will help us achieve.

How are the Policies different from the Youth Protection Manual?

If you’ve ever served as a summer camp counsellor, you’re familiar with the Youth Protection Manual (the “YPM”). This was the first set of youth safety rules that the Archdiocese ever adopted.

Yet the YPM only applies to Metropolis camps and retreats. And, while an important part of ministry, these critical programs are just a small part of the full spectrum of Youth Ministry Programs and Events. 

Unlike the YPM, the new Policies apply to all Youth Ministry Programs or Events across the Archdiocese (at the parish, Metropolis, and Archdiocesan levels). And they bring three key improvements to our youth work:

First, the Policies create a new category of ministry workers, called Youth Workers, who will be the only people eligible to participate in Youth Ministry Programs and Events.

Second, the Policies set forth clear policies about how to report inappropriate behavior.

Third, the Policies establish a simple system of compliance to ensure that all Youth Ministry Programs and Events across the Archdiocese are safe, healthy, and Christ-centered.

What exactly is a Youth Ministry Program or Event?

Any program or event that is primarily held for Children or Youth is a Youth Ministry Program or Event. This include everything from JOY and HOPE and GOYA youth groups to Sunday School, parish basketball teams, Greek schools, and parish dance groups.

If the Church is hosting a program or event for Children or Youth, then it’s our job to make sure that program or event is a safe space for all participants. 

How can I become a Youth Worker?

Becoming a Youth Worker is simple. And it’s a necessary first step if you’d like to participate in Youth Ministry Programs and Events.

First, you need to register (or re-register) every year with your parish. This helps us know who our Youth Workers are and how to contact them. And it makes sure that we can track the next critical steps.

Second, you need to complete online training every year. We’ve worked with our youth safety vendor, Praesidium, to completely redesign the online modules we used to use for summer camp training. This online course (which takes about an hour and a half to complete) is thorough, engaging, and incredibly informative.

Third, you need to successfully pass a background screen once every two years. This helps establish that all our Youth Ministry Programs and Events are safe environments staffed by reliable and trustworthy people.

Once you complete these three simple steps, you’re a Youth Worker who is eligible to serve in Youth Ministry Programs and Events across the Archdiocese.

What does all this cost?

The Archdiocese is pleased to report that both the youth safety registration database and training materials are offered to all communities and parishioners in the Archdiocese free of charge. The only cost associated with becoming a Youth Worker will be the cost of the background screen. 

Praesidium will be offering potential Youth Workers access to their most rigorous background screen for just about $18 dollars. While some jurisdictions will see higher prices (given the costs associated with certain state databases), this is an incredibly affordable way to have confidence in the safety of our Youth Ministry Programs and Events.

How do I report inappropriate behavior?

The Policies cover two different kinds of reports.

First, as a matter of law, all people who have responsibility over young people are known as “mandated reporters.” Youth Workers fall into this category. If a mandated reporter sees Abuse or suspects Abuse, he or she must immediately report this to state authorities

Again, this is a matter of law. And the Policies reflect this.

Second, there are also situations that do not rise to this level. For example, a person might witness behavior that seems inappropriate or is a violation of certain parts of the Policies. If this doesn’t rise to the level of Abuse or suspected Abuse, then the Youth Worker must simply intervene to stop this behavior and report it to the Supervisor within the Youth Ministry Program or Event.

How will we track compliance?

This is a critical piece. Our challenge as an Archdiocese is not simply to adopt youth safety procedures but to demonstrate that we comply with them.

To do so, we have established a simple process that begins in the Parish.

First, the parish Administrator will prepare a roster of all the Youth Workers in the Parish. He will indicate that (a) these are the only people who are participating in Youth Ministry Programs or Events in the parish, and (b) they have all been registered, trained, and screened as required by the Policies. The Parish Administrator will then send this certified letter, signed by the Parish Priest and Parish Council president, to the District/Metropolis.

The District/Metropolis Y2AM Director will receive these letters and then prepare her own. She will prepare a roster of Parishes in the District/Metropolis and draft a letter that will indicate (a) which Parishes have submitted their certification letters, (b) that she has completed a random spot check of Parishes to ensure there are no discrepancies, and (c) that the District/Metropolis roster contains the only people participating in Youth Ministry Programs and Events in the District/Metropolis. The District/Metropolis Y2AM Director will then sign and send this certified letter to us at the Archdiocese.

Finally, Y2AM will receive these letters and prepare our own compliance letter. We will prepare a roster of the District and Metropolises and draft a letter than will indicate (a) which District/Metropolises have submitted their certification letters, (b) that we have completed a random spot check of the District/Metropolises to ensure there are no discrepancies, and (c) that the Archdiocese roster contains the only people participating in Youth Ministry Programs and Events in the Archdiocese. We will then sign and send this certified letter to the Legal Committee of the Archdiocese.

This final certification letter will be a semiannual snapshot of our compliance with the Policies across the Archdiocese.

When do the Policies go into effect?

At the request of our Hierarchs, who are strongly committed to youth safety, the Policies will go into full effect on September 1, 2019 (the start of the new Ecclesial and Ministry Year). In the interim, we will be available to help Parishes with the registration and certification process. 

As of September 1, 2019, no Youth Ministry Program or Event will be allowed to function if it is not in full compliance with the Policies.

This is our pledge to Children and Youth across the Archdiocese. It is our pledge to all parents across the Archdiocese.

It is our pledge to you, the faithful, who deserve to know that every Youth Ministry Program and Event across the Archdiocese is a safe place where young people can encounter our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

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Want more from Y2AMSubscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

BONUS: Y2AM is working on a brand new ministry training course, which will be available August 20th. In the meantime, subscribe to our newsletter to hear the latest about the course. And check out a keynote address Steve recently delivered for more of Y2AM's vision for ministry.

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The Christian Home

Rev. Dr. Alexander Goussetis

Director, Center for Family Care of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese

 

The family is a microcosm of the entire Church, a most sacred place where relationships with one another are cultivated in the love of Jesus Christ.  -Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America

While parish priests, religious educators, and youth workers share in the responsibility of bringing our children closer to Christ and the Church, the primary responsibility rests within the “home church.” Countless studies reveal that the single most important factor in the religious development of a child is the example set by parents. The attentiveness that parents regularly provide for their children to excel in academics, sports, and the arts—building a home environment where Jesus Christ is the primary focus requires even greater diligence. Families must cultivate the basic teachings and practices of the Orthodox Christian faith among themselves; that is, the ethos of an hour-and-a-half Divine Liturgy must be reinforced in the many hours spent at home. The primary context for the working out of our salvation as husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters is within our families.

The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together…When harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends, and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both of families and states, are thus produced. When it is otherwise, however, everything is thrown into confusion and turned upside-down.  -St John Chrysostom

The Orthodox Christian home is meant to foster a prophetic witness to the Kingdom of God. It is from the home that persons are called to grow in the phronema (mindframe) of the faith. The Center for Family Care creates resources to strengthen marriages and families, both as households and parishes. Digital support such as podcasts, webinars, blogs/reflections, video series, and other media provide concrete and easy-to-use materials for families to grow in the faith. A recent Facebook posting offered this feedback: “These materials inspire me beyond words! I hope they will continue because it appears that we have just begun scratching the surface of discovering the reasons why our system of passing on the faith is not successful.”

Family ministry is something we are beginning to see more and more in our Archdiocese. Parishes are hosting family nights, parent retreats, marriage enrichment workshops, mom’s mornings, and a variety of other activities that would fall under this umbrella. The staff of the Center for Family Care travel extensively around the country, connecting the faith to the people and training parish leaders. But ministry to families is much more than just hosting programs and retreats. Its ultimate purpose is to connect the Church with the home. It focuses on equipping families with the means to apply the teachings and practices of the Orthodox Faith into every dimension of their lives. It is for every member of our Church family!

When we see our parish as a family, we extend family ministry beyond the demographic of parents and children and engage the entire life cycle. Recently, a parish hosted a family night for parents and children. On the day of the event, a woman in her 80s who doesn’t have children or grandchildren asked if she could attend. The parish, of course, welcomed her. Instead of staying home alone that evening, she was able to watch children play, help with crafts, join the adult program, and break bread with her fellow parish members. Her night ended with feelings of joy and a sense that she truly belonged to a family. She not only benefited from being there—the children and parents benefited from interacting with her. This is what family ministry does—it brings all the children of God together.

Planning your Parish Adult Education Program

Because so much of parish life functions like the school year (September through May, or whatever it is in your area!) now’s the time of year to start planning and organizing the program ideas and events. Adult education is no exception. Parishes should work to develop a calendar of events and programs, and a parish-wide calendar of events, that is then shared with the parishioners. Our faithful have busy lives, which means parish events need to get on their calendars as soon as possible. Use all the technology available: something printed to hang on the refrigerator at home, something on-line for people’s phones (many parishes have online calendars that aren’t used much!). Then of course, there will be mailings and email blasts, bulletin inserts, and announcements.

With that in mind, you will probably develop a variety of adult education programs and events, from a weekly study or studies of some kind (like a Bible Study or book group), to monthly events (like a movie night), to some quarterly (like a visiting speaker or local trip) or annual events (like a larger overnight trip). 

What will the mix of events look like? That’s up to you, the interests of your parishioners, the ages and groups you want to invite, the resources you have available to you.

So, the events can range. Weekly events, usually involve reading or watching something together in a parish or home setting. Bible Studies, religious books, the many good programs on the GOA YouTube channel, and others.

Monthly events, might involve going somewhere because they require advance planning. Orthodoxy on Tap has become popular in many places around the US. People gather at a local restaurant, they buy what they want, there’s a speaker and discussion.

Social service projects can provide an opportunity for people to work together, but don’t miss the opportunity to learn, what the Church says about the underlying issues of your project.

There can be events that work to build fellowship among the participants through, movie nights, excursions to local restaurants, museum trips, etc.  Just remember the point of adult religious education is education, not just entertainment.

Depending on your parish, you could target these ideas to specific audiences (see earlier posts), or leave them open to everyone. With that in mind, be sensitive to costs: young adults and seniors might be very price conscious. Be sensitive to time: families with children need to consider childcare. Be sensitive to schedule: most people usually can’t schedule their lives for more than eight to ten weeks at a time.

What should you teach?

That’s the easiest part of developing an adult religious education program. Start asking the adults what they want to know, what they want think about, what are their concerns about their lives and their faith.  Once they tell you, run with it.

Don’t be discouraged as you get started. The first events may not be well attended. Keep the momentum. Talk them up and encourage the participants to talk about the events and invite others to participate in future events. Personal contact and invitation is central to program growth.

Even though you are planning a series of events and opportunities for the adult in your parish to come together to discuss matters of faith, share their faith, and apply their faith, adult education is a ministry, requiring the same attention as any other ministry of the Church.

 

 

3 Things Every Youth Worker Should Learn from Chris Pratt

When Chris Pratt isn’t saving the world from rampaging dinosaurs or Malthusean supervillains, he’s handing down some serious wisdom.

Last night, Chris Pratt received the MTV Generation Award, which is basically a Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Rather than simply offering a few jokes, Pratt “accepted his responsibility as an elder” and offered the next generation 9 rules to live by.

Perhaps most surprising to many, Pratt’s remarks were deeply and faithfully Christian. 

I’ve heard a lot of sermons directed to young people. Many fall flat. Pratt’s sermon (if I may call it that) landed in a way many other messages to youth and young adults don’t. 

Why?

Here are three things any good youth worker (or minister, generally) can learn from Chris Pratt’s remarks. 

1. Be Yourself

As with many people, I first saw Chris Pratt on the hit comedy Parks & Recreation. He played Andy Dwyer, a silly yet earnest and good natured man that was a consistent highlight of the show

Even though he’s gone on to become a Hollywood leading man, starring in movie franchises like Jurassic Park and Guardians of the Galaxy, Pratt retains the charm and humor that made his portrayal of Andy Dwyer so memorable. 

So, when he rose to accept the MTV Generation Award, Pratt didn’t affect a stiff or overly-formal persona. The man who spoke is the man his fans have seen for years. 

He made ridiculous poop jokes that, while sublimely silly, had a certain brute logic to them (I intend to heed his advice the next time I’m at a party). 

Because no Chris Pratt speech would compete without some potty humor. 

Yet several of the rules on his list touched on the transformative beauty of living a Christian life, something that’s also near and dear to Pratt’s heart

He opened his list with a reminder to breathe: because, “if you don’t, you’ll suffocate.” Pratt then shifted gears and went in an unexpected direction: he reminded us that we each have a soul, and that we should “be careful with it.”

And so it went, a list that was both incredibly funny and genuinely wise.

I would have had difficulty imagining a Christian sermon in the middle of an MTV awards show. Yet Chris Pratt did the unexpected. And it has the whole world talking.

What does that mean for you?

When you’re communicating to young people, whether one-on-one or time a group, do likewise. Play to your strengths. Don’t try to play a role: simply offer the talents and gifts that God has offered you. 

You may worry about capturing the attention of young people who aren’t particularly interested in the Gospel. But you’re not called to simply pass on facts, or make obsolete ideas somehow relevant.

You’re called to be a witness

God has placed you, a unique and unrepeatable person with unique and grace-filled talents, into a particular time and particular place. You don’t need to play a role or try to be someone you’re not. 

You simply need to be the person that God has made you and called you to be

2. Clarify Your Message (And Stick to It)

In my experience, most sermons fail because they try to do too much. Rather than pick a single and compelling idea (and end when that point has been conveyed), many preachers turn their message into a mess by adding, again and again, “one more thing.”

Pratt clearly had simple point he was trying to convey: that God is real, that He loves us, and that this truth matters deeply in our lives

He wasn’t diving deep into subtle theology. He wasn’t trying to make nuanced credal points. He had a clear and compelling idea, and he didn’t let his words get in the way of that message. 

Pratt offered 9 simple rules. Some of them were simply jokes. Others were truths cloaked in a silly premise. Others were transparently and unashamedly grounded in the Gospel.

Taken together, the message was clear: do good for others because “it’s good for your soul,” avoid “being a turd” because it’s bad for your soul, live in the knowledge that “God is real, God loves you, and God wants the best for you.”

It was a clear message. It was a consistent message. And it has resonated with millions. 

What does that mean for you?

If you’re giving a sermon, decide upon the key idea you want to preach. If you’re leading a class or retreat, be clear about the one thing you want participants to receive. 

Your job is to focus, not on quantity, but on quality.

You don’t help people if you burden them with too many facts and figures to remember. It’s better to give a person one thing that is life-giving than ten things that fail to bear fruit.

Be crystal clear about what you mean to communicate, and your audience will be crystal clear about what they’re receiving from you.

3. Push Your Audience, But Do it Wisely

Pratt’s 9 rules started with what appeared to be a joke: remember to breathe. 

In retrospect, that rule may not have been about simply breathing so as not to suffocate. It may have actually been about learning to be still and finding the key to prayer

He then advised people to remember that they have souls, and to avoid being nasty. As the list progressed, his rules developed a bit more weight, and even challenge for his audience. 

With his 4th rule, Pratt advised people to give dogs medicine by masking it in a piece of hamburger: “they won’t even know they’re eating medicine.” In its own way, the entire list followed this principle.

Pratt included some light hearted jokes as the occasional break. And he started small, beginning non-controversial rules like “don’t be a turd” before he got to deeper rules like “God is real.”

That can be a difficult thing for some people to hear, so he immediately followed his confession of God’s existence with a palate-cleansing poop joke. 

Rules 8 and 9 were the most challenging of all. He advised the audience to “learn to pray,” to actually dedicate their time to connecting with God. 

And he concluded with the most difficult rule of all: to remember that “nobody is perfect.” In our Age of Authenticity, when we each become the arbiters of our own truth, this can be a difficult thing to accept. Yet Pratt dove in, telling the audience that, “If you’re willing to accept [your imperfection], you will have grace.” 

As he concluded his list, Pratt said something deeply Christian: that this grace was paid for by someone’s blood. Though he didn’t mention Jesus by name, he didn’t have to. The Lord loomed large in Pratt’s sermon.

And today, the internet is lit up with articles and blogs exploring the Christian call at the core of Pratt’s 9 rules. 

What does that mean for you?

In a world that questions the existence of sin, concepts like repentance can be completely foreign. While John the Baptist boldly preached this conversion of the heart, his call would fall on many deaf ears today.

Before you say a word, try to understand who you are speaking to. Put yourself in their shoes and try to see the world as they see it. Look for points of commonality you can built upon rather than strike directly at points of difference. 

What you say is often just as important as how you say it. Your goal isn’t to alienate but to challenge. It’s to inspire rather than estrange. 

Choose your words wisely. Speak with kindness and gentleness. 

Speak the truth in love.

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

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Want more from Y2AMSubscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

BONUS: Y2AM is working on a brand new ministry training course, which will be available soon. In the meantime, subscribe to our newsletter to hear the latest about the course. And check out a keynote address Steve recently delivered for more of Y2AM's vision for ministry.

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The Principle of Non-refoulement in the Context of Migration

                                                             

Imagine your country, the place you’ve lived your entire life, has been so effected by climate-driven disasters, such as extreme floods resulting in dangerous landslides, that not only is infrastructure ruined but it has become impossible to yield crops. Your livelihood has been destroyed and you have no way to provide food for your family.

Imagine years of civil war in your country has brought despair, poverty, and famine. Bombings and artillery strikes have made your neighborhood unrecognizable. During the most recent government blockade your family had to survive off plants found in the streets – several of your family members have already died.[1]

Your only chance to live is to leave, so you flee. You leave everything behind, seeking refuge somewhere safe. Perhaps your journey consists of an insufferable desert crossing or a perilous journey across the sea. You find yourself working in a sweatshop to save enough money to pay traffickers to smuggle you across borders. When you finally reach your destination, you kiss the ground and dance with joy having reached somewhere safe – only to find out that your new home is planning to expel you. Reality hits; you are a stranger in a strange land, and you are unwanted. You now face the possibility of being sent back to your home country – even if it is unsafe.

This concept of the expulsion of an individual, whom under international law has the right to be recognized as a refugee, is called refoulement. In order to protect such individuals from expulsion to places in which their fundamental rights are in danger, United Nation Member States developed the principle of non-refoulement. This law protects an individual from being returned (or expelled, transferred, extradited), against their will, from one country to another when there is evidence that their lives or freedom will be threatened or subject to persecution.

As the current population of people on the move continues to grow, there has been an increase of mixed-migration between refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and internally displaced persons. Due to mixed-migration, it has become increasingly hard to determine who is who. As the line between migrants and refugees blurs, certain populations have fallen between the cracks and face the reality of being unprotected, despite international law. During the Global Compact negotiations, the principle of non-refoulement has been a hot topic. While many Member States support non-refoulement, others do not - some have even argued that the principle does not belong in the Global Compact. Therefore, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is advocating for the protection of all migrants, regardless of their status, from refoulement, and arbitrary or collective expulsions. To ensure such protection, the Archdiocese is asking for an explicit reference to the principle of non-refoulement within the Global Compact.

As we absorb the complexities of the concepts discussed above, I leave you with encouragement from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis, and Archbishop Ieronymos from their Joint Declaration at the Mòria Refugee Camp in Lesvos, Greece: “[we] demonstrate our profound concern for the tragic situation of the numerous refugees, migrants and asylum seekers who have come to Europe fleeing from situations of conflict and, in many cases, daily threats to their survival…. a broader international consensus and an assistance programme are urgently needed to uphold the rule of law [and] to defend fundamental human rights in this unsustainable situation...”. Recalling “the Lord’s words, on which we will one day be judged”, how will we respond to the stranger who knocks on our door (Mathew 25:35-43).

 

Elaina Karayannis is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the U.N. (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.

 

[1] The situations mentioned above are only two of the many reasons a person choses to leave their home, to read more testimonies from refugees and migrants visit: https://iamamigrant.org

 

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