Entries with tag youth ministry .

Two Reminders about Youth Safety Training

If you’ve ever been a camp counselor, you know the pains of some of the youth ministry training process. Of course, I don’t mean the time you took classes on learning icebreakers or how to be a good listener or how to best speak about our faith. I mean the online training, learning all of the things you shouldn’t do and having to learn the ins and outs of the Youth Protection Manual.

 

(By the way, the Archdiocese is preparing new Policies for the Safety of Youth and Children.  So these basic youth safety principles will soon apply to all youth work.  Stay tuned!)

 

Now, I’m sure you know that all of this is important. But when you’re an experienced counselor, it’s easy for this to feel like just another task you have to check off your to-do list. It’s easy to lose sight of what it’s all really about.

 

Those in youth ministry have an incredibly important role in the spiritual lives of the youth with whom they work. Though you may only be with these young people for a retreat or for a week-long camp session, your impression matters, and the parents trust that their children are in safe hands with you.

 

So what are two things that everyone can keep in mind, as a background for all of the rules and regulations? What I’ve found helpful is to remember that boundaries matter, and that we as leaders in the Church serve as icons of God.

 

1. Boundaries matter

 

Boundaries are at the core of many youth safety regulations. We talk so much about how far apart to be from the youth, about how much physical contact is culturally appropriate, about contact online and on the phone. But common to all of these rules is the concept that our boundaries and the boundaries of our youth truly matter.

 

One common mistake that youth workers can make is to not properly set up boundaries for themselves. They want to be open and helpful, they want to be always available to lend a helpful hand or a listening ear. Youth workers want to be there for their youth, but sometimes that Johnny-on-the-spot availability can be at the detriment of their own physical and spiritual health. We can’t give what we don’t have.

 

While our boundaries matter, so too do the boundaries of our youth. There is the obvious need for physical boundaries to be respected. But there’s also the need to have clear emotional boundaries with those we serve. I remember early on in my youth work a time when I found myself getting too emotionally worked up about a young person’s struggles. I wanted to be able to help him, to make sure he was alright. But I had to see that I was trying to fix him instead of letting God do the work. I had to stop seeing him as a problem to be solved, and instead as a person to be loved and prayed for. I needed to commit him to God, and to trust that Christ could work in his life.

 

2. Religious leaders are icons of God

 

Whether we like it or not, we who work in ministry are – in a very real and particular way – icons of God for those we serve. How we act and live our lives reflects Christ whose ministry we share. How we speak to young people guides and molds how they perceive and understand God.

 

This may be a rather heavy realization to have, but it’s an important thing to keep in mind. Though we know that we are imperfect people ourselves – and perhaps because of an awareness of our imperfections we are personally aware of the power and grace of God – we must remember that our youth do not expect us to be quite so imperfect. How we show love, how we demonstrate the grace of God by how we show grace to young people we serve, all impacts how they are able to relate to and encounter the Holy Trinity.

 

Another temptation, intertwined with the importance of boundaries, is sharing too much of our own story too soon and in the wrong context. We may want to show that we can truly empathize with the challenges our youth face – because, let’s be honest, we have oftentimes been in the same boat they’re in now. But we have to remember that we represent the straight and narrow path; we represent Christ. When we share with teens, for example, that we faced a challenge they are now facing, we need to favor being vague over specific. Because not only could a discussion of specifics end up crossing a boundary, it can also send the wrong message and lead to temptation rather than a helpful lesson. How specific we become, and the examples we share, can only be properly discerned over a period of time as we build as relationship with the person before us. And when it comes to youth, we need to be extra careful in what we say.

 

We don’t have to be perfect, but we do have to work not to scandalize those in our care (1 Corinthians 8:13).

 

Icons made of wood or plaster bring us to an encounter with the one depicted. Through created matter, we come to know Jesus Christ, His mother, and the other saints. And in us – those who work with youth – others come to see living icons of our Lord. Imperfect though we may be, young people encounter Jesus Christ in and through us.

 

*****

 

When Youth Safety is seen as a task to accomplish, or as a set of rules to follow, we forget that we are preparing to serve the Body of Christ. Youth ministry is Christ’s ministry and we are His hands and His feet serving His people. But we need to rediscover the importance of keeping proper boundaries, both for our sake and for the sake of the youth. And we should keep in mind that ultimately we represent our Lord to those we serve.

 

How have you struggled with boundaries in youth ministry? Have you ever encountered a time when you felt a young person placed you on too high of a pedestal?

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Christ Comes First

Last week, we at Y2AM hosted the 2017 Youth and Camper Workers Conference in Austin, Texas. Well, to be honest, it was more like all my co-workers who pulled it off; I seriously had the chance simply to show up and participate. They poured tons of work into the conference, and it showed.

The theme of the conference was “The Seamless Garment of Christ.” Steve chose this theme because in practice, we often pursue what he calls an “ice cube tray model” of ministry. The idea is that we separate our ministries into individual segments of work: GOYA, Young Adults, Women, Men, etc. Usually these ice cubes are kept separate and don’t interact with each other much. Our idea at Y2AM, however, is that if we are going to function properly as the Body of Christ, then we need to understand that these ministries, while distinct, should never be separated.

Our keynote speaker, Fr. Stephen Freeman, the author of the excellent blog, Glory to God for All Things, started us off by perfectly introducing the topic. He suggested that everything in the Church – the icons, the sacraments, the music – existed for one purpose: Christ. They exist to unite us to Christ; for in Christ are all things complete and contained. He even capped this thought perfectly by saying, “When we speak of anything, we speak of everything, because we speak of the One Thing: Christ.”

As the conference progressed and various speakers contributed, I noticed that I heard the name of Jesus spoken more than I’ve ever heard Him spoken at any other Orthodox event I’ve ever attended. We love to speak of “Orthodoxy” or “the Faith” or even the “Ancient Faith,” but hearing each speaker offer a meditation of which Christ was the Center struck me as somehow sadly unusual.

But as I’ve thought more about this, I find that the reality is simple: our ministries can never be united unless they are united in Christ because they are actually His Ministry. There is one priesthood: Christ’s. There is one Church: Christ’s. And unless we keep Him at the forefront our meditation, at the forefront of our work, then we will never achieve the unity that we seek.

All of our ministry must be oriented toward Christ and His Kingdom; if we focus on anything else, then we are doomed from the start. His presence must infiltrate our entire lives. We must be His and His alone, seeing that all things are given to us by Him and that all things exist for Him and that all things are only fulfilled in Him.

Our ministries cannot oversimplify the Gospel, offering moralistic platitudes and feel-goodery with humanistic undertones. If we do this, if we pull our punches when it comes to Christ and water down the depth of the gospel, then we actually inoculate people against Christ, giving them just enough of the faith not to turn them off to Christ, but not enough to open the compelling reality of Life in Him. Christ simply becomes boring, something people “already know about,” rather than Someone people are invited to encounter and follow.

We boldly need to reclaim the scandal that is the Person of Jesus Christ, the God who became Man, who dwelt among us and ascended the Cross in the flesh, calling all people who wish to follow Him to take up their cross also and to follow Him to their own deaths.

Christian ministry must primarily be about Christ, and if it is not, then it is not Ministry. It is simply a philosophy that guides how we interact with others. Indeed, if we don’t have Christ as the Center of all our ministry, of all our preaching, of all our life, then we are only wasting our time.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has an MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary and is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Check out Fr. Stephen Freeman's Keynote address below:

 

The Role of Parents in Youth Ministry

When we want our children to learn and to be educated, we send them to school and to tutors. When we want them to be healed, we send for the doctor. When we want them to learn about their faith, we take them to Sunday School. It makes sense right? We leave it to "the experts”.

 

Youth ministry, then, becomes something that some educated elite provide to our youth. It’s not our area of expertise; that’s why we have priests, youth directors, Sunday School teachers, etc. The problem with this vision of youth ministry is that it assumes Christian faith is simply another aspect of our lives like school and physical health rather than the very foundation of who we are. It assumes that being a Christian means learning information rather than encountering a person, Jesus Christ.

 

It also assumes that parents don’t have a role in facilitating this encounter with Christ other than taking their children to church.

 

But the Orthodox home is itself meant to be a little church. With this in mind, what then is the role of a parent in youth ministry? What are young parents to do that want to instill a love for Christ and an Orthodox mindset in their children?

 

1. Watching, listening, and doing

 

Like language acquisition, our Orthodox Christian faith is something which comes to us by watching, listening, and doing. When we are little, learning language happens naturally as we are in environments with others speaking and interacting around us. So as children are around parents who put their faith to action, they learn by watching and listening to them, and then by following their lead.

 

And if those in their home are not putting their faith to action, children learn inaction as well.

 

The Christian witness cannot come just once a week during Liturgy and Sunday school. Faith takes root in the minds and hearts of children over time as they are regularly engaging in the action of their faith.

 

2. Daily prayer

 

Prayer is a non-negotiable aspect of the Christian faith. A Christian that doesn’t pray is like a motivational speaker that doesn’t speak. We learn to pray by praying, and the Orthodox Church has a wealth of prayers for us to connect us not only to Christ but also to the generations of people who have prayed these same words.

 

If we want children to learn to pray, then parents must be modelling a prayerful life. What do meals look like in your home? Do you pray before eating to thank God for all that He has given you? If we pray before eating, it first teaches children that prayer is important, and second it teaches them that our blessings come not from our own labor but from God’s grace.

 

Do you have icons in your home? Are they for decoration or are they a part of your family’s prayer life? It is the Orthodox practice to have a prayer corner or a section in your home where you have some icons: of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the patron saints of your family. We might include some candles, a censer for incense, a prayer book so that we can say our prayers together.

 

Having prayer be a visible component of your life together as a family will teach your children that prayer is a natural and vital part of their life.

 

3. Learning together

 

It can be tough admitting that we don’t know Jesus Christ well enough to introduce Him to our children. But humility is good for us, and it can even help motivate us to learn together with our children. "Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3-4). When your children see you getting excited about Christ, they too will be encouraged to encounter Him along with you.

 

There are great resources both in print and online to learn with your children: from Y2AM, to Ancient Faith Radio, to children’s books. If you are reading your Bible, your children will want to learn with you. You can even read the stories of the saints that we remember each day and the scripture readings of the day on the Daily Readings app on your phone.

 

But the best place to meet Christ and to live out the Orthodox faith with your children is in the Divine Liturgy. So here’s a tough question: when do you arrive to church? Is it when liturgy begins or do you arrive late? If we arrive late to church but are always on time to school and work, what does this teach our children about the importance of the Liturgy? Remember, children learn by watching us.

 

Many young parents are worried to bring small children to church because they don’t want to be a distraction to other parishioners. Orthodox churches are filled with icons, candles, incense, beautiful vestments…it’s a sensory experience both for adults and children. Having a fussy baby is an opportunity to walk them around the back of the church to venerate the icons, to investigate the church with your child. The more a child is accustomed to being in church, from an early age, the more they will see it as home and will desire to be there.

 

If your child has questions during Liturgy, let them ask you quietly. If you don’t know the answer, reassure your child that you will go together to ask the priest after the service. As children, we are naturally inquisitive; quenching this inquisitive spirit by hushing them can do a lot of damage to a child. Encourage questions and don’t be afraid to say, “I’m not sure, but let’s go find out!”

 

*****

 

Taking children to school doesn’t remove the duty of parents to help with homework and studying. Going to the doctor regularly doesn’t mean a parent has no role in keeping their children healthy. Similarly, having a priest or youth director or Sunday school teacher doesn’t preclude a parent from helping their child stay connected to Christ throughout the week.

 

Raising children in the Orthodox faith is a community effort, but it begins in the home. It begins as children listen and watch you practice your faith, and then they put this same faith into action in their lives. They learn to pray as their parents make daily prayer important in the home. They cultivate a love for Jesus Christ by meeting Him in His Church, in the scriptures, and in the richness of the Orthodox tradition with their parents.

 

How do you practice your faith throughout the week? Would someone know you were an Orthodox Christian if they came to your home? How are you seeking Christ today?

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Let's Stop Chasing Skinny

This summer, my four-year-old cousin refused to show me her stomach, claiming that she was wearing a one-piece bathing suit because she was too “fat” for a two-piece.

 

When I heard that, I realized that there is a huge problem with the way that we all treat ourselves. By we, I mean human beings. And especially young girls and women.

 

My cousin, I’ll repeat, is four. How does she even know the word “fat”? While she will probably (God willing) forget this memory, it will stick with me for a long time.

 

I’ve heard far too many people I care about call themselves fat, put themselves down for how their bodies look, and do (at best) unnecessary and (at worst) harmful things to change the way that they look. It is so painful to see someone be self-destructive for the sake of “beauty.”

 

And that’s because I am probably the worst perpetrator of it. I’ve been there.

 

When I was in high school, I was the girl restricting my caloric intake and spending my evenings walking or running on the treadmill to burn off the small amount of calories that I actually let into my body; I was there. When I ate things that I didn’t want to eat in a vain attempt to lose weight, I was there. And most of all, when I cried in my bedroom because I weighed a hundred and fifteen pounds or so and didn’t know how to maintain it, and then again when I gained five pounds and could barely handle it, I was there.

 

So when I see someone else repeating those patterns or thinking that their bodies are not good enough, I’m really right beside them, hurting because I know they are hurting.

 

Just as Jesus is at my side, hurting because He has seen me hurt, and His love is so great that my suffering is His suffering, too. The way that it pains me when I see younger girls (and boys) getting down on themselves is how I imagine Christ looked at me during my lowest point.

 

As I write this, a significant (and healthy) weight gain is only one of the things standing between me and that girl I used to be. I also have had my confidence and self-worth reinforced, and, most importantly, renewed my relationship with Christ.

 

The good news: I am so much healthier now. The bad news: I fought with my body for a long time. I sometimes still fight with my body, seeing it not as a gift from God but as an obstacle to overcome in pursuit of pretty.

 

I absolutely abhor the idea that anyone else would do the same things that I did. That anyone else treats their body as anything less than a vessel of the Holy Spirit. Because that’s what it is, plain and simple.


So I’d like to take this chance to say this to my younger sisters, cousins, campers, GOYAns, and anyone who has felt badly about their bodies: “Skinny” is this weird and elusive thing that I can assure you that you will never reach. You will never be happy if you are striving to have a “perfect” body. This is not the perfection you were meant for. You are meant to appreciate the body that Christ gave you because He gave it to you and He only makes good things. You’re not meant to desecrate it or tear it apart with unkind thoughts, words, and actions; not meant to make it anything other than a vessel of grace.

 

Your worldview should not be shaped by the words “fat” and “skinny” and what you see on social media. Your worldview should be shaped by Jesus Christ. I would much rather you worship Christ than “skinny,” and work on your relationship with Him in order to not ruin your relationship with food and working out and the many other things that being obsessed with your weight will ruin.

 

Throughout this very, VERY slow process, I am learning to appreciate the body that Christ gave me simply by virtue of the fact that He gave it to me. And it contains His body and blood! I can’t fathom the idea that I have treated myself so badly when Christ lives in me.

 

Please, if you are struggling with body image, know you are not alone. I was there, I am there. But also know that you are loved by Christ and meant for His goodness. There is nothing truer. I will always be grateful that He has helped me realize that my body is sacred and His, and I am trying now to treat it that way. Try with me.

 

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Want more from Y2AM?  Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday!  And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter.  As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

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Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

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The Summer When I Fell in Love With My Faith

I met Jesus at a lake on July 1, 2013.

 

It was my first day as a staff member at Camp Saint Paul, the Direct Archdiocesan District summer camp in Litchfield, Connecticut.

 

I can’t succinctly explain it, but if you have been to summer camp or know anyone that has, then you will understand the presence of Christ that is there. If I was asked what the most life-changing experience of my life has been, I would say summer camp, hands down, because that is where I have learned so many lessons about my faith. As I prepare to go back for a fourth summer, I absolutely cannot stop thinking about how camp has shaped my life.

 

First and foremost, my faith had shrunk down to almost nothing before I attended camp for the first time, and it was bolstered completely within a few days at camp. After a few days interacting with Christ-centered individuals and trying to learn everything that I could about Orthodoxy, something shifted inside me, and I wanted to experience my faith so much more.

 

Working with children, and other Orthodox young adults, has taught me so much about life. My patience is ever-expanding, and I feel like I can relate to way more people than I ever would have known how to in the past. I can work with others, even those who are different from me, more readily, and I owe that to camp. I wouldn’t have as strong of a relationship with my grandparents or really anyone in my life if those relationships weren’t the Christ-centered ones that I learned how to create at camp.

 

And while I have had some of my most amazing experiences at camp, I have also had some experiences that haven’t been so great. But that’s probably one of the best parts. I’ve been upset, frustrated, tired...you name it. Over time, I’ve been humbled as I have come to realize Christ’s presence in these experiences. He was shaping me through them. Life really has mirrored camp for me in this way--that in my difficult times, I find that Christ is present and shaping me.

 

Since I met Jesus that fateful summer, I haven’t let Him out of my life. Most of the things that I’ve done since then I can say without a doubt I would not have had the opportunity to do if I had not attended summer camp, including having the job that I do right now, as just one of many examples. For things like this, I will forever be grateful to my camp experience.

 

Without camp, I would have not had an experience that allowed me to want to meet Christ and serve Him. That’s why my advice is, if you want to serve the Church in any capacity, spend your summer at camp with Him and others who love Him. As I watch former staff go on to take internships and jobs, I encourage them wholeheartedly to come back to camp. Doing so shows a desire to better oneself, to connect with Christ, and a responsibility to your health and well-being well beyond what you can find at an internship. But the only way that any of this will happen is if you deny yourself and let Christ in completely.

 

That’s why I am so excited that I was given the opportunity to go back to camp for a week this summer. I know that not everyone can do this, and so I won’t take it for granted. Even going for a weekend, or a liturgy if you can, is exceptionally helpful (to the camp, and to yourself).

 

I’ll always remember that I met Jesus at that lake, but I’ll also remember that now that we know each other, we can only strengthen our bond, and I can experience Him more fully, as He is present in all places and filling all things. That’s how I plan to take summer camp with me for the rest of my life.

 

Image credits:

Depositphotos

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Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

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