If you have a youth worker at your parish, you’ll know first hand they are a wonderfully strange and unique breed of human. They use youth lingo that can be hard to understand, work strange hours in the company of teenagers, and actually enjoy playing bizarre games – that most of us wouldn’t be caught dead attempting.
Indeed, the homo youthleaderus, while still relatively rare, has evolved to thrive in its environment.
So imagine what it must have been like to have hundreds of these creatures in one place, together, for 48 hours.
For the first time in decades, last August, that’s exactly what happened, as over 180 Anglican youth workers and youth group leaders descended on El Rancho in Waikanae, for The Abbey – a weekend of training, networking, and naturally, very strange games.
Tikanga Pakeha’s Youth Advisor, Phil Trotter, says that from the outset The Abbey set out to be a quality event. It needed to prove to our youth leaders that Anglicans can deliver the goods when it comes to youth ministry.
“We wanted to equip youth leaders with practical skills for youth ministry on the ground and to inspire them to engage with young people, and to make space for them, in their neighbourhoods and schools.”
“To be honest, The Abbey went way better than I'd imagined. We had a huge response. I’d hoped for 100 people, dreamed of 150. But we ended up having to cut off our registrations at 180 due to our space limitations.”
The Abbey team certainly pulled out all the stops to make sure the event debuted with its best foot forward, roping in keynote speakers Bishop Justin Duckworth, Rev Darryl Gardiner, Carolyn Robertson and Josh Taylor, as well as a theological torrent of workshops from some of Aotearoa’s top youth experts, and music from Nelson worship band ‘City of Light’.
Saturday afternoon featured a literal bench of bishops turned out for the
“Ask a Bishop Anything” session.
50 youth workers crowded round the purple shirts for their chance to pose direct questions for once, including this curly one from one seasoned youth leader:
“If we’re really serious about ministry to the under 40’s, why don’t we redo all of our budgets and put youth ministry first?”
“I just don’t think it’s really about the money,” responded Bishop Justin.
“The Kingdom of God has always spread by the blood of the martyrs.
“What the Anglican Church really needs are youth workers who are willing to sacrifice their lives so more young people can experience Jesus.”
The Lost Sheep
The key theme for this year’s gathering was the parable of The Lost Sheep, and from that, the challenge of connecting with youth who are outside our normal youth group boundaries.
Ukarau Ropiha, a youth worker based in Foxton, connected deeply with the theme.
Bishop Justin's story of “the actual lost sheep he and a mate had found with maggots dropping from its tail,” was memorable for Ukarau, especially “his analogy that ministering to lost sheep isn’t always nice and pleasant.”
Ukarau also found the thrill of just being together, a powerful experience.
“Coming from Tikanga Maori it was good being at The Abbey, not as part of a separate group, but together in unity, under the banner of one God, one people.”
Cameron Thorpe, Youth Pastor for St Georges Epsom in Auckland, appreciated the analysis of social trends he heard at The Abbey,
“There were some great seminars looking into the big cultural shifts … especially looking at the issues of discipleship and what that could look like in our time and place.
“It was so good to realise I’m not the only one wrestling with these kinds of challenges, that others are on the same page, looking and searching for new ways of doing things that will be more effective in today’s culture.”
Bishop Victoria’s workshop on Centring Prayer was a highlight for Monique Richardson, a youth leader from St Christopher’s Avonhead in Christchurch.
“There's nothing greater than sitting in a chapel full of followers of Christ and partaking in a ‘loud silence’ dedicated to experiencing our divine Father.
“I can't say I've put much thought into the way I pray before, but sitting there, … concentrating on surrendering myself and genuinely asking to hear from God, was an experience I won't forget in the near future.”
Looking to pick up on this year’s momentum, the Tikanga Pakeha youth team have pencilled The Abbey back in for August 2014.
Anchoring next year’s line up will be international speaker and youth theologian, Dr Andrew Root, author of the book Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry.
The Rev Spanky Moore is Young Adults Ministry Developer for the Diocese of Christchurch.