Incorporating Liturgical Prayer into youth ministry

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I didn’t attend an Anglican youth ministry when I was in junior high or high school, and my training in youth ministry came from Moody Bible Institute was a solid, but liturgy-free environment. So when I started to work as a youth pastor at an Anglican church that was wanting a ‘distinctly Anglican’ youth ministry, the only experience that I had to work with, was three years of attendance at an Anglican church.

Since then, the last 7 years has been spent in Anglican youth ministry. I have fumbled here and there trying to figure out exactly how to structure our ministry in a way that reflects our church and tradition. I don’t have it all figured out, but the one area where I have had success is bringing liturgical prayer into the rhythm of our group. Here’s how it has worked with my group:

1. “The Lord be with you”
As simple as this sounds, by opening prayers at youth group the same way we do during our Sunday morning services, we remind students that the two are similar. Prayer at the end of a Bible study and prayer before communion both bring our thanks and requests before the same God. I also try to have students close any prayers they say during open intercession with “Lord, in your mercy”, so that the rest of us can join in by responding, “Hear our prayer”. These simply serve as helpful signposts for praying.

2. Collects
Wherever possible, I try and use collects when praying. One of the reasons I fell in love with the Anglican tradition was the beauty of the collects in the Book of Common Prayer. They express things in a way that I couldn’t possibly do without significant effort (and an excellent editor). 
And it doesn’t only have to be the weekly collect that is used. At our midweek Bible study we usually have a portion in which the students just hear from God’s word. Before we start we would together pray the collect for purity (“Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known….”). Again, since my students were used to hearing this prayer at the beginning of a worship service, it helped frame our evening with a request for God to come in and prepare us for encountering His Word.

3. Morning and Evening Prayer
I recently used morning and evening prayer on a mission trip for our devotionals. I had the Psalms and readings printed up for each day. This was a lot of paperwork ahead of time, but I wanted to make sure that there would be as few roadblocks as possible for fully engaging with these liturgical services. I was a bit nervous about the students being able to do responsive Psalm and Gospel Canticle readings, and I was cautiously optimistic about having one or two of them lead by the end of the week.
They loved it! With adequate preparation and instruction on how we would do the responsive readings, they jumped right in. After only two services (one morning and one evening), they were ready, and they led the prayers the rest of the week. (One of the best things about those services is that they don’t require a collar to lead them.)
**If you want to ease them into running this kind of service, you can always opt for the shorter “Noonday Prayer” and “Compline” services. 

4. Communion
If you are on a retreat, especially a longer retreat or one that takes place where they may miss the regular eucharistic service, I can’t recommend more highly celebrating communion. Part of youth ministry is introducing adolescents to adult life in the church, and celebrating the Lord’s Supper is one of the primary ways that the Anglican church worships together. 

One important note: in order to incorporate these well, especially if you are going to run a full service, you have to do the heavy lifting ahead of time. Make sure any printed material is crystal clear. Include extra instruction ahead of time so that no one gets left behind. And be patient. It may take a few tries to get everyone used to using these structures. 

Liturgy isn’t magic, but it is the framework by which we, as Anglicans, worship and pray. A distinctly Anglican youth ministry doesn’t have to have incense and vestments when it meets, but including these prayer structures will be a way to pass on the beautiful tradition that we inherited from those who have gone before us. Hopefully we can help our students anchor their lives in Christ through ways he has been worshipped throughout the ages