Minister among youth? Come to Common Ground

Youth ministry can be lonely work. Regardless of a ministry’s success, staff and volunteers can often feel isolated and unsure of where to turn for support.

Common Ground, the Canadian ecumenical youth ministry forum, aims to support those who walk with and minister to youth. SIMON CHAMBERS
Common Ground, the Canadian ecumenical youth ministry forum, aims to support those who walk with and minister to youth. SIMON CHAMBERS

Common Ground, the first Canadian ecumenical youth ministry forum, aims to equip and inspire these men and women. From May 31 to June 5, 2011, close to 150 youth leaders will gather in London, Ont. for worship, workshops, speakers, and hands-on learning experiences. The conference is for all who minister among youth, whether professional youth ministers, camp staff, volunteers, or clergy.

This is the first time that mainline Canadian churches have united for such an event. The planning team, presenters, and future participants include members of Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and United churches.

Phil Colvin of Vancouver, B.C., will be attending. The 29-year-old Anglican serves both as youth coordinator for the Diocese of New Westminster and youth director for the parish of St. Francis-in-the Wood. His day-to-day parish work includes leading a youth drop-in, running Bible and confirmation classes, and organizing a social justice outreach program in Vancouver’s downtown east side.

“Here on the west coast, it can feel like you’re kind of isolated,” Mr. Colvin said in a recent interview.

His first opportunity for formal networking and training was Generation 2008, an Anglican youth ministry forum, also held in London, Ont. There he met colleagues who shared similar experiences and challenges. He is still in touch with many of them.

“Common Ground feels like a great chance to reconnect,” he said. “It’s also a chance to take that next jump to see what the critical issues are with others around the country, and how the churches have really changed in the last couple of years.”

Conference offers holistic learning
The Common Ground agenda includes lots of time for informal networking as well as presentations from keynote speakers Dr. Rodger Y. Nishioka of Columbia Theological Seminary and Sarah Dylan Breuer, a public theologian and creator of the U2charist, a liturgy that incorporates the music of rock band U2.

Off-site learning opportunities include a high ropes course, media training, a visit to a camping ministry, and immersion in a L’Arche community for adults with developmental disabilities.

“I really like the focus on holistic learning,” said Judy Steers, youth initiatives coordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada and a member of the ecumenical planning team. “It’s not about coming together for five days to do a bunch of head stuff or feeling-level stuff. It’s very much about heart, body, and mind.”

Ms. Steers noted that certain leaders in the Anglican Church of Canada have been bold in their recent support of youth ministry. The Ecclesiastical Province of Canada chose to cancel its 2011 annual meeting and devote the $40,000 budget to youth ministry. Out of this budget the province will send 28 youth workers to Common Ground.

The Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island has also committed to sending 15 participants to Common Ground.  At least seven will be under the age of 25.

“It’s really visionary not to send the folks who have been doing this for a long time, but to encourage the vocation of young people who are called to ministry,” said Ms. Steers.

This includes young people like Stephanie Galbraith, an 18-year-old university student from Pilot Mound, Man., who said she feels called to study theology and minister to others.

Two years ago Ms. Galbraith attended Ask & Imagine, the Anglican-Lutheran leadership development program at Huron University College in London, Ont. She said the experience was “eye-opening” and deepened her passion for ministry. Now she’s excited to follow up with Common Ground.

“I think student ministry has so much potential,” she said. “I’m ready to learn at Common Ground, to mature as an individual, and to learn what they have to teach,” said Ms. Galbraith.

Interested in attending Common Ground? Learn more and register online. The early bird registration is due March 31. All interested are encouraged to contact their diocese to see if subsidies are available.

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