Building bridges to children and youth

“Where are all the young people? We need more young people!”

This is the anxious cry heard in churches across the country. While the Anglican Church has yet to come up with a definitive solution as to how to retrieve a lost generation of young people, The Reverend Father Chad McCharles, Incumbent of St. George’s Anglican Church in Brandon (Manitoba), has some ideas about where to start.

“There are often walls between generations, but walls are antithesis to relationships. What did our Lord teach us? He taught us to build relationships and to tear down walls,” says the young, married Priest and father of 2 who is halfway through the 2nd year of his Incumbency. Father Chad marvels at St. George’s Sunday School roll, which now includes more than 60 names.

Good Friday at St. George's Brandon
Good Friday at St. George’s Brandon

As the native Manitoban reflects on the light and spark in a church that, as recently as 2008, thought it might have to close its doors, he sees the congregation’s willingness to balance the tension between the “exuberance and resistance” that is inherent in intergenerational ministry as an integral part of the journey.

“St. George’s has always been supportive of its young people but it didn’t always manifest in a formal way. There is good chemistry between the generations, older folks are supportive of the kids and put up with shenanigans.” Father Chad explains that in the faces of all these young people, longtime parishioners see the future of the parish and they have a good perspective on what is, or is not, “a big deal.”

Father Chad credits the previous Incumbent, Father Jim Brown who had been in the Parish for 22 years, with having paved the way for an openness to, and readiness for change. “When Rev. Jim brought in some contemporary music some of the more traditional spaces were changed. Visually the Church became quite un-Anglican but they made room for the praise band and it worked for them.”

Today, Father Chad has returned one half of the chancel to a more traditional-looking Anglican chancel: “The left side has choir pews and the right side has the paraphernalia for the praise band.”

In addition to offering a welcoming mix of both traditional and contemporary worship music, St. George’s also makes sure to involve young people in the church’s broader outreach ministries.

“The parish has a very active youth group called The Dragon Slayers. Young people from grades 7 and up are invited to come hang out every Thursday. There are five areas of focus: faith formation, mission at home, mission abroad, eco-earth, and…ridiculousness!” Father Chad is unapologetic as to that last one: at St. George’s, kids are allowed to be kids.

Built in 1956, St. George’s Church is located in a low-income residential area with small, well-kept houses filled with working class people, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck. In addition, the parish is not far from a downtown core, which struggles with issues of poverty and homelessness. In other words, the community has needs.

“We have a monthly program carried out by the Dragon Slayers called Heart Dogs where we prepare and hand out hotdogs, hot chocolate and donuts to those living on the streets of Brandon. The church is our base camp. We use our kitchen to get everything ready and we go downtown.”

In addition to local outreach, St. George’s also has its eye on global needs as well. “We have a wonderful relationship with Eagles Wings Children’s Village, Uganda. For many years we have given financial support to help broaden their outreach to orphans.” A number of parishioners have taken up a fundraising project that will send 10 people from St. George’s, including members of the Dragon Slayers Youth group, to Uganda in 2015 to help with a building project.

To support the mission trip to Uganda, or for more information about ministry at St. George’s Brandon, you can friend them on Facebook or visit www.stgeorgesbrandon.ca.

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