Online education for youth workers launches

Young people have deep questions about life, the universe, and God. Many youth leaders probably wish they had a little more support and background knowledge to help guide them.

“Not everybody can drop everything and go to seminary,” says Andrew Stephens-Rennie, member of the Anglican Church of Canada’s National Youth Initiatives team, “but we can help them using the power of online education.”

For the past year, Stephens-Rennie has led the development of Trailblazing-a site dedicated to connecting and educating Anglican youth workers across Canada. The site launches today.

A one-year subscription gives users access to all courses on the site, as well as links to external resources and bibliographies. The site also features forums, providing a place for youth workers from across the country to connect-discussing their lives, work, and courses.

“In the beginning, I went out for coffee with youth ministers to tell them a bit about Trailblazing and to get their feedback,” says Stephens-Rennie.

“The thing they kept saying was, ‘I need a safe place to talk about the realities of my ministry-the challenges that I’m facing, the joys that I’m having.’ They were looking for a broader connection with other people doing the same kind of ministry.”

Four courses are available immediately (Intro to Theology, Worldview and the Gospels, Youth Ministry Foundations, and Belief and Practice), and more will be coming soon. Currently in the pipeline are resources from the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) and a faith and film module.

Stephens-Rennie expects the course list to grow and change as the site matures and receives feedback from its users, helping Anglican youth workers feel more comfortable and confident in their roles.

“I continue to have conversations with folks who say, ‘I’m really just happy to have young people come, and every now and again I try to slip in the God stuff.’ But I really think that as the Christian church, it’s good to start with that as our frame-that we’re inviting young people to a particular kind of community and helping to form them. We’re not just trying to slide God stuff in.”

“People-especially young people-can see when you’re trying to sell them something. But to be able to do it authentically, and integrate it into the way we live our lives, and the way in which we minister with them, to them, and amongst them-all of that is hugely important.”

Diocesan youth workers from across the country got a chance to test drive an early version of Trailblazing in September 2013 at their annual conference, Stronger Together.

Su McLeod, family ministry facilitator for the diocese of British Columbia, is keen to get started.

“I’m really excited to use it in the diocese,” says McLeod. “It’s something that people have been looking for. We have people in our diocese who want to be youth workers, and it’s really hard to find places for them to go to learn these skills.”

Melissa Green, youth coordinator at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Kamloops, B.C., was another beta tester. She was impressed by Trailblazing’s content, and quickly began thinking about how she could use it at home.

“It would be easy for people to use individually if they decided they wanted to learn on a specific topic,” says Green, “or for someone to organise a group, or for a diocesan youth coordinator to offer it to parish youth leaders within their diocese.”

Stephens-Rennie  appreciates the need for youth leaders to have easy access to good educational resources to help them accompany young people in learning about faith.

“For the church to carry on, and figure out what it means to be church in the 21st century, we need thoughtful youth ministers who can reflect on why we do what we do, and who can invite young people to do that with them.”

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