Thrive! family program offers new approach to youth ministry

An Anglican parish in the Diocese of Huron is partnering with a local United Church of Canada congregation to develop an intergenerational ministry program for parents and youth.

Originating in the community of Essex, Ont., Thrive! A living manual for families is a joint ministry project between St. Paul’s Anglican Church and Essex United Church that aims to provide community support for families facing new challenges in an ever-changing world, through food, fellowship, and education.

The program, which is currently in development, will centre on Thrive! Dinners, at which families come together to prepare and share a meal together, followed by programming geared towards the concerns of their particular demographic. Additional resources will likely include a website, Pinterest and Facebook groups, and regular blogs for sharing stories and resources.

The Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle, rector at St. Paul’s and at  Trinity Church in Cottam, is spearheading Thrive! in partnership  with the Rev. Jim Hatt, pastor of Essex United Church.

A parent and self-identified “Gen X-er”, Brouillard-Coyle at the time of the program’s inception had been ruminating on the complexities of modern parenthood in response to new developments affecting youth, from the rise of social media to the growing prominence of LGBTQ issues.

“My teenager and I have had several conversations joking about how there should be a manual for all of this, because there’s a lot that’s happening in this generation that didn’t happen when we were that age,” she said. “And yet as parents we’re trying to figure things out.”

Meanwhile, St. Paul’s and Essex United Church had been working on building a relationship in recent years, with Brouillard-Coyle and Hatt getting to know each other through the Essex Ministerial group.

Comparing their two congregations, it become apparent that although St. Paul’s was “financially struggling” and lacking monetary resources, the congregation had had great success working with its youth, whom Brouillard-Coyle described as “great, dynamic participants in worship”.

By contrast, she said, Essex United had more resources, but “have struggled with results.”

“We got talking and said, what would it look like if we worked together on a youth ministry project?” Brouillard-Coyle recalled. “And [Hatt] really liked that idea.”

Essex United Church subsequently applied for a grant to hire a youth minister (the position has yet to be filled), while St. Paul’s applied and received a grant from the Huron Development Fund to support its participation in the project.

The location of the Thrive! Dinners is expected to be Essex United Church, which has three kitchens in close proximity. Multiple kitchens would allow organizers to accommodate participants who, for example, wish to join meal preparation while working in a gluten-free environment.

Following their meal together, Thrive! participants would then break into groups by age.

“If there are younger children, we would have a program for them,” Brouillard-Coyle said. “There would be a program for youth to address dating and social media, and how to design a life you love. Even though the school system’s telling you, ‘You’ve got to figure out now exactly what you want to do and then just go that route’, the reality is [that is] not the case anymore. You can move around jobs and careers, and how do they navigate that?

“Then the parents would also have a program where they would be able to explore things like, how do you navigate the mental health system? How do you talk to your kids about drugs? Or how do you address when your kid comes home and says, ‘I don’t want to be called ‘she’ anymore, I want to be called ‘they’? And how do we walk through all these things with our kids?”

While practical advice is a major part of Thrive!, the program is not without its spiritual component. Organizers will invite families to share grace before the meal, and then hold a prayer service at the end of the evening incorporating themes from the group discussions.

“We expect worship to grow organically, because we are doing this interdenominationally, and recognize that there’s a lot of these families who aren’t necessarily connected to church, but could really use a safe space in which to connect,” Brouillard-Coyle said.

She added, “In the end, I hope that families will feel a connection to each other and to God, however they might understand God, in a new way that helps to support and enable families to thrive in our area.”

Brouillard-Coyle is currently laying the groundwork for Thrive! by connecting with families and preparing social media and web components. She has also consulted Anglican youth leaders across the country to learn from their use of social media.

Among those leaders in Sheilagh McGlynn, national youth animator for the Anglican Church of Canada. Though the first “brick and mortar” Thrive! event will likely not be held until late April, McGlynn expressed enthusiasm at the program.

“The fact that they’re not just looking at youth is really interesting to me,” McGlynn said. “It’s not just about, ‘Let’s put our youth in a basement room where they watch movies and eat popcorn and talk about faith things’. That’s, I think, a very standard model of youth ministry at this point. It’s an old model. It’s not that it doesn’t work, but it’s not connecting the young people to the community.

“There are lots of things I love about [the Thrive!] plan,” she added. But in terms of just how they go about doing youth ministry, it’s that it’s not going to be [just] taking the young people out and doing their own thing with them; it’s going to be doing it intergenerationally.”

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