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Youth leaders equipped to answer tough questions

By Stuart Mann

More than 50 youth ministry leaders from the Diocese of Toronto, and some from the Diocese of Niagara, gathered at Trinity and Wycliffe colleges in Toronto on Dec. 1 for a day of theological training, worship and networking. The event, hosted by the colleges and the Bishop’s Youth Ministry Committee, was a resounding success.

“It was incredible,” said Alexandra McIntosh, one of the organizers and the youth ministry coordinator for York-Credit Valley. “The Spirit was there with us, for sure.”

A group photo of participants at the youth leaders’ training day. Photos by Michael Hudson.

The purpose of the day was to give youth leaders a deeper understanding of their faith, particularly prayer, baptism and the Eucharist. Youth often ask difficult questions, explains Ms. McIntosh, and their leaders want to be equipped to answer them.

The day began with worship music in Wycliffe’s chapel, followed by an hour-long talk by Bishop Jenny Andison, the Diocese of Toronto’s link bishop for youth ministry, on prayer. She spoke about why Anglicans need to prioritize the interior spiritual life of teenagers and that the best way to do that is by equipping them to pray. Her talk included both theological instruction about Christian prayer and practical tips on how to pray with youth groups and teach young people how to pray on their own.

“We asked the speakers to help deepen our theological understanding of these subjects, but also to equip us to teach youth about them,” says Ms. McIntosh.

After lunch, participants crossed the street to Trinity’s chapel, where Bishop Andrew Asbil gave a talk about baptism, particularly the Baptismal Covenant and the Prayer Book. Like Bishop Andison, he provided both theological instruction and practical tips.

Bishop Andrew Asbil leads a session on baptism.

The final part of the day was an instructed Eucharist, led by the Rev. Dr. Christopher Brittain, dean of divinity at Trinity. He gave participants an order of service that explained various parts of the liturgy. Then he led the service, pausing at key points to explain what was happening.

For many, it was an enlightening experience to learn about a service they had been participating in for years. For one youth leader who came from an evangelical denomination, it was the first time she had experienced an Anglican Eucharist.

The day not only provided theological instruction but also the opportunity for youth leaders to network and share experiences with each other – a rare occasion. “Youth ministers don’t get a chance to meet each other in the same way that clergy do,” says Ms. McIntosh. “Getting them together in the same room, sharing the same questions and struggles, they know they’re not alone. They feel empowered to do their work.”

The event was such a success that many left asking when the next one will be. Ms. McIntosh says another could be held in 2020, with the subject being how to teach youth about the Bible.

The Rev. Dr. Christopher Brittain walks youth leaders through an instructed Eucharist.

She describes the day as a “win” for youth ministry in the diocese. “It made us feel that we’re on the right track, that people want to come and learn and teach. We’re in a sweet spot right now and we need to build on the momentum.”

The diocese is slowly going through a “culture shift” that recognizes the importance of youth ministry and equipping youth leaders, she says. “The sense of renewal and momentum in youth ministry is palpable, and we all left that day feeling it. There’s a love for our young people and a love for Jesus in this diocese that we’re tapping into and exploring.”

She thanked all those who helped to organize the event, including Jillian Ruch of the Bishop’s Youth Ministry Committee, Bishop Andison, Bishop Asbil and Dean Brittain. “It was a really collaborative experience,” she says.