It has been such a tough season for ministry. I think we have all been on a learning curve for how to conduct this vital work in a completely different format. Not being able to gather in person, see full faces or whole bodies, and build relationships in our usual ways means us old school ministry leaders had to basically throw out the book and start from scratch. The first few weeks, we had quite a few youth attending St. Alban's (Burnaby) ‘Zoom’ youth group. But then, as I have heard has happened elsewhere, the novelty wore off, and numbers dropped. I simply wanted to know why, and ‘zoom exhaustion’ did not seem constructive. What about it was exhausting?
As a youth group we discussed a few things, and through this feedback, we completely overhauled our entire program. First of all, we decided to meet later on Sundays, no more at 10am, we would meet at 11:30am. Turns out teenagers like to sleep, who knew? Secondly, I discovered that doing a ‘check in’ was not helpful. At all. Our young people are just as vulnerable as ever, and more so in terms of mental health. Although I always hold fast to the principle that youth group is not a counselling session; it is a place where youth can be supported pastorally, and a check in is sometimes a good way to gauge well-being and connect later on in a more appropriate setting. However, when the world is seemingly burning down around you, the last thing you want is to be asked how you are, or worse, hear someone else’s troubles that may be both activating or triggering to your own issues or circumstance. I had completely missed this possibility. Yet, the youth affirmed that they felt comfortable enough to contact me in other ways if things were not okay, and that it was not helpful to talk about how things were during this time. A more helpful ministry was to offer a distraction, a time to laugh and socialise, and to keep the vital connections they had been missing for so long.
Finally, I also realised that I had to stop doing a more formal session. Youth at that time were exhausted from zoom school, and right now are exhausted from the anxiety of in person school. Life is not normal, so we should not pretend it is. So I changed up our whole curriculum to revolve around some social activities and prayer time. Super simple. We started using a lot of online programs and games to enable us to all together play together and do social team activities. We have played so many games, hosted a murder mystery night on zoom, and done baking together. As much as we could, we also kept setting dates for in person physically distant meet ups – outside.
Then to our surprise we were contacted by Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Westminster to collaborate on some youth activities. Being in the same deanery as us, and with many of the youth going to the same schools, it made total sense to join together. They had a small group and we had a slightly larger group made up mostly of female young people, so the addition of more members meant more fun all around, more relationships, and better social events. This partnership has grown way beyond our expectations. Now we have meetings of up to 15 youth, have found great success in a simple online format with a late start, and made sure to keep up the outdoor in-person social events. We now have a joint newsletter and Instagram account and just hosted an outdoor, socially distant All Saints/All Souls youth event in collaboration with the Diocesan Youth Movement. We gathered in a church parking lot with a propane fire pit, drank hot chocolate, played Anglican saints bingo, roasted marshmallows, and prayed. Distancing and sanitizing protocols were in place. The event was attended by 30 people, made up of both youth and leaders from four parishes.
Lauren Pinkney is Youth Leader at St. Alban's, Burnaby, chair of the Diocesan Youth Movement, and Administrator for the diocese of New Westminster office.
The Covid Chronicles are stories shared from around the diocese of what ministry in and with families is like in this strange season. Read the others here. We know it’s not all roses but it’s not all thorns either. The small steps we are taking to connect with each other, the experiments in online worship and formation, the space we make to feel all the feelings – that’s what we want to share. We’ve all been on a steep learning curve – at times exhilarating and at times exhausting. Where have we met God in the midst of it?