Five generations of youth ministers meet

By Judy Steers

How often does anyone get to meet their great-great-grandchildren?

Five generations meet at Common Ground: L-R (front) Cheryl Toth, Ruth MacIntosh, Simon Chambers (back) Brendon Bedford, Matthew Carter, Jenny Salisbury, Brock Grills, Rosie MacAdam.
Five generations meet at Common Ground: L-R (front) Cheryl Toth, Ruth MacIntosh, Simon Chambers (back) Brendon Bedford, Matthew Carter, Jenny Salisbury, Brock Grills, Rosie MacAdam.

That’s what happened to Cheryl Toth, a chaplain from Regina who attended Common Ground 2011, the National Ecumenical Youth Ministry Forum hosted by Huron University College’s Faculty of Theology in London, Ont., May 31 to June 5. The ties were strong, but not biological: Toth met four young adults from Toronto and Peterborough, Ont.

What’s the connection?  Her “great-great-grandchildren”—Brendon Bedford, Matthew Carter, Rosie MacAdam, and Brock Grills—are all youth ministry apprentices, currently participating in a Diocese of Toronto mentorship program. One of their mentors is Jenny Salisbury, youth minister at St Clement’s church in Toronto and assistant director of the Ask & Imagine youth theology program at Huron.

Here’s where the threads tie together: when Salisbury was 15 years old, her youth leader was Simon Chambers, currently communications coordinator at the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund but also a long-time youth minister. When Chambers was 15 years old, his youth leader was Ruth MacIntosh, currently in parish youth ministry in the Diocese of British Columbia. And when MacIntosh was a young leader in Toronto in the late 1980s, one of her mentors was Cheryl Toth (then Cheryl Kristolaitis).

All eight of those people were at Common Ground, and met over lunch one day for a family photo that testifies to the power of mentorship. Though Toth, MacIntosh, Chambers and Salisbury have all had many significant mentors and teachers, this was an important moment to see the roots going down and the branches growing up on this family tree of youth ministry. All four “elders” are still in full-time ministry, and the four young apprentices are eager to follow in their footsteps. Rosie MacAdam will take a key role in next year’s justice camp in Peterborough, and Matthew Carter is on staff at the Ask & Imagine.

Common Ground was a great opportunity to witness the growth of youth ministry roots and branches. One hundred and fifty participants from five denominations attended Common Ground and more than half of those participants were Anglican youth leaders, camp staff, clergy, and chaplains from all over Canada. No doubt there is much momentum from the Generation 2008 Anglican youth ministry forum, and this gathering was a great boost to that energy and commitment.

“It helps to know that we are not alone, even though youth ministry is hard to sustain in our local contexts” said one diocesan youth ministry volunteer. “The opportunity to gather like this, and receive such high calibre training is invaluable.”

Common Ground keynote speakers were Dr. Rodger Nishioka from Columbia Theological Seminary and Sarah Dylan Breuer, most widely known for her lectionary blog and as the creator of the U2charist, a Eucharistic setting based in the music of the band U2. Participants also attended workshops on Aboriginal Spirituality, Teens and Self-Harm, Consumer Culture,  Church Politics, Young Adult ministry, Technology, Media, Justice, Sexuality, Engaging youth with Scripture, and more.

For the four youth ministry apprentices, it was the culmination of a year of ministry mentorship and training. They are eager to put into practice what they have learned and to pass it on to other Anglican youth and emerging young leaders in the church. Toth meanwhile is eager to one day meet her great-great-great-grandchildren, as the ministries of these talented young adults begin to bear fruit.

Judy Steers is the coordinator for youth initiatives at the Anglican Church of Canada.

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