Anglican Distinctives in Youth Ministry

The question comes up from time to time.  What makes for an anglican approach to youth ministry? I’ve heard people try to articulate it but end up not saying much that differs from other traditions.  In the years I have served the Diocese of South Carolina, I have worked with a lot of Youth Ministers and helped churches hire them.  Sometimes I have interviewed candidates and many times I’ve had people approach me seeking a position and I’ve recommended them to a church. They have come to us from a variety of denominational backgrounds and some who had no denomination in the past. In all this, I have noticed enough patterns to realize that there are qualities or traits that can set anglican Youth Ministers apart. Perhaps this might begin to answer the question of what makes Anglican youth ministry Anglican.

First, Anglican Youth Ministers tend to have a different view of the church.  It’s a particular ecclesiology.  They tend to view the church as larger than just the congregation and are more likely to want to be part of something bigger than just their parish.  In the Anglican tradition, the diocese is the primary unit of the church and it consists of it’s parishes. The bishop is like the senior pastor of a multi-site church in many ways. So, Anglican Youth Ministers are more likely to work together on diocesan events and projects because they see the church as so much more than just their congregation.  Those who have come to us from a different denomination often don’t get this.  Some are thrilled that there is a network of Youth Ministers here and want to do events together because they have never really experienced that before.  Many denominations have regional structures but they are often not all as closely linked as a diocese can and should be. Some who come from other traditions look at what we do and cannot figure out why they should connect to it or participate.  They are happy being lone rangers because that is all they have ever known.  Anglican youth ministry has a larger perspective of the church because the diocese is the central unit of the church. Anglicans tend to want to expose their students to this larger vision of the church.

Second, Anglican Youth Ministers value liturgy.  Many have grown up in our tradition and have come to love the liturgy in our worship.  Others have come to us from outside and gained an appreciation of it. Therefore, it only makes sense that we weave liturgy into our youth ministries on a regular basis.  We should not do youth events that look like every other youth event out there. It simply does not connect our events to the weekly worship in our congregations. Since how people start is how they continue, if we fail to reflect a liturgical tradition in our youth ministries we end up raising basic evangelicals who have no connection to the tradition they were raised in. Our primary task is making Christians, yet how we go about this shapes their future participation.  What does this look like?  Every healthy youth group prays together.  Why not use prayers from our prayer book sometimes and introduce students to prayers in our tradition? Amongst our students, most all of them will start a group prayer with the bidding “The Lord be with you”. That is a liturgical distinctive. It is not limited to Anglicans but it’s not basic evangelical protestantism either. It is rooted in an ancient way of praying together. At our diocesan youth events, we try to weave a little liturgy into our main sessions and we shape those sessions to reflect a liturgical way of doing worship. We also add in Compline at our camp and in our youth events.  Sunday mornings at our events almost always include communion. We do this in a way that connects the event to the service rather than simply imposing a liturgy on Sunday morning.

Third in appreciating liturgy, an Anglican Youth Minister recognizes the value of structure. Specifically, this means recognizing that patterns and markers are useful in ministry. Many of our youth ministries design their yearly calendar around the church calendar so as to make the most of the different seasons. From Advent to Epiphany to Lent and beyond, the church calendar offers teaching opportunities that also connect the youth ministry to the rest of the church. Each season also brings certain youth events to the calendar which students can look forward to each year.  In my non-denominational  years I was often tempted to make change the norm and not repeat things done before.  I learned however that we can build on annual events without making them institutions in themselves. Confirmation is a significant marker in our tradition (and many others) that we can wisely use to proclaim the gospel and teach good doctrine. Students benefit from the stability of patterns and markers in knowing what they can look forward to.  There is safety in groups where we have patterns that allow students to enjoy a stronger sense of belonging.

Fourth, an Anglican Youth Minister engages students in the Bible.  This sadly was lost for many years in North American Anglicanism but is the emphasis of Anglicans in many parts of the world. A number of priests have commented to me that we lost our emphasis on preaching and teaching the scriptures when we started using the 1979 prayer book because it is so Eucharistic centered. Most Episcopalians would be shocked to learn that 200 years ago, Episcopal Churches commonly featured a 45 minute sermon that was an exposition of scripture. Looking at youth ministry resources from Australia and England for example shows us that teaching the Bible is a primary function of their ministries. It is fair to say we are recapturing this emphasis in North America these days and the Young Anglicans Project is working to make this a priority. 

More could be said here but I thought it would be great to get these thoughts out there first. I am not an Anglo-Catholic, so my perspective is limited to a more protestant and reformed approach.  There are also a great many assumptions in this as to what is just good youth ministry and not distinctively Anglican; such as gospel proclamation, relational approach, intergenerational integration, etc.

                  by Dave Wright, Coordinator for Youth Ministries, Diocese of South Carolina