On February 23 and 24, more than fifty people from the Lutheran, Anglican and United churches, as well as others, gathered at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church for the 3rd annual Inspire Conference. Inspire is a conference with a focus on ministry to children, youth and families, as well as contemplative justice ministries.
Our first keynote was the one that was most interesting to me. It was called Killing Church Slowly: How age and stage ministry is killing the church with Jason Santos, Mission Coordinator for Spiritual Formation for the US Presbyterian Church. He uses generational theory (how different generations such as Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials are influenced by what was happening in the world when they were coming of age) to explore how different generations have had different relationships with the church and different theologies. He argues that the axiom of “young people leave the church in their 20’s but return when they have kids” no longer holds true, because Millennials grew up in Sunday School, rather than in church itself, and therefore never had experiences of church, worship and community. The result has been that “we have stripped our young people of the very practices that define us”. Why would they return to church when they have children, when their experience of church was Sunday School? Santos isn’t arguing against Sunday School or youth group, but that we need to be cautious if these are the main places young people get spiritual formation, and that if we aren’t including young people in the rituals and worship lives of our communities, we risk killing the church slowly. We need to give young people practices which give them a sense of identity and community, more than being worried about whether they are learning the “right” beliefs.
As with all conferences, the opportunities to talk with colleagues new and old is one of the most important, though never scheduled, parts. The highlight of this for me was on Friday night, we had a candlelit dinner in the nave of St. Andrew’s. We shared food and stories and got to know each other better.
Our worship over the weekend was led by Music That Makes Community (members of that group were also at the Synod Office the same two days leading a workshop for the diocese of New Westminster and Vancouver School of Theology), an organization that works with ecumenical communities and leaders to empower and liberate communities’ spiritual life through singing. The music was entirely paperless (and screen-less): we learned the songs through hearing and repetition. They also offered a workshop which I attended, which offered great tips for how to lead music without paper and written text: for me this was particularly exciting and provided ideas about how to lead music with kids who can’t read yet.
I attended several other workshops throughout the weekend. The first was with the Rev. Caleb Crainer, a Lutheran Pastor from Los Angeles, and was called Talking with your youth group about sex. It offered resources, games and activities, as well as practical advice for how to speak with youth groups about sex: from STI’s to sexuality, from relationships to technology. Jason Santos offered a workshop on his work with the Taizé community; what makes it so special for so many young people, and how we can learn from what Taizé does in our own ministry. The final workshop I attended was called Christian Identity Politics with Rev. Carolina Glauster, from Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, North Vancouver. This workshop helped us to explore how, despite the many terrible things the church has done and our desire to rid ourselves of them, (for example Residential School) we might not “throw the baby out with the bath water” and instead reclaim those traditions that do bring us closer to the Kingdom.
PHOTOS: Emily Ann Garcia