Regaining transcendence in Youth Ministry

Ian Paul reflections on labyrinths reminded me of an unfinished blog post that I started last year. You might want to read Ian post, it is here

At the Frontier Youth Trust staff retreat in early December we made the most of the snowy weather by heading out into the Staffordshire countryside on a snowy afternoon with a walk in the snow. True to the pioneer approach of FYT we did some of this walk following our nose and not Google maps. Looking for the cues and trusting in a sense of direction. Aside from muddy feet when we misjudged the softness of ground underneath our feet and snow we made it back.

Around the back of the farmhouse, was a flat ish piece of garden, covered in snow. With a bit of planning two of us turned a blank white sheet into a labyrinth.

Just before it got dark. (It was nearly the shortest day) we each spent time within the homemade route. Moving from outside to in, hearing the still crunch of snow on our feet, hearing the silence of the outside and birds chirping not far away, and focusing on the moment.

It was my first experience with a labyrinth.

And whilst I could give the impression it was an amazing experience. The amazing experience was had by the others who reflected on the profoundness of the experience afterwards, made more so because we had made the space ourselves. But I had to admit though I tried to be present in, to pray, to reflect, to give space to God in it. It was a real struggle.

It is only today that I have began to think that part of my own problem with this has been an acceptance on my own part towards the deconstruction spirit of the age. Call it a personal fear of the trancendancy of God and that divine action might be plausible and credible. Don’t misheard me, it’s not a lack of belief, more a lack of belief or vulnerability to the notion that God might still act or speak. In Andrew Root book he articulates this as part of a process of the secular age, and the current age of authenticity based on Charles Taylor.

It might have been that I couldn’t ‘switch off’ and let God be. It might have been that I didn’t want to. But there’s a broader point that the labyrinth reveals to me, is to wonder where the transcendent reality of Gods divine action might occur in our Youth work and ministry? For there could be a temptation to strategise, merchandise or franchise God in youth ministry practices, reducing God to programme,even prayer as a strategy, or singing in churches as as ‘warm up’ or because it’s it’s a ‘theme’. All examples where transcendent is reduced, because it’s not believed in or credible perhaps. We might also live in an age, writes Root, that the transcendent is easy to write off, as ’emotional’ or manipulated by bass drums.

So it becomes more difficult to believe in the transcendence, to incorporate spaces of divine action within ministry, giving young people a viable connection with the God they may already pray to. It’s a transcendence that as Ministers makes our role unique. Yet whilst we’re trying to minimise the damage or leakage of young people out of churches, it might just be that opening the possibility of transcendence into youth ministry might make it a theological and profoundly constructive task again in the formation of and performing of disciples who follow a call, action and way.

The next day. The snow had gone. There was only a short window of opportunity to do our labyrinth. That sacred space was temporary.

And I’m not sure how long the grass will have this funny pattern.

Let make the transcendance part of youth ministry, especially if it is temporary , unplanned and initiated by the young people. Like my own experience, it might not ‘work’ for everyone every time. But our ministry isn’t about what works, it’s about cultivating faith.

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