Patricia Adams will begin working this week as our Christian Education Coordinator. I could make a list for you of pertinent experiences and accomplishments she brings to the position, but that kind of knowing about her is no substitute for knowing her. It’s no substitute for extending a hand of welcome or for offering a personal hello. Indeed, there is no substitute for such things, nor for taking the time to actually converse. So, let me encourage your doing that. And let me remind you, as well, of how important such hospitality is. After all, we are a congregation. And, when it comes to living together as a congregation, there simply is no denying: It is about relationships – about our relationships with one another, about the relationship we share with God and with the world around us.

Having said that, however, let me invite you to consider with me the relationships which will be a priority for “Trisha” in her work with us – i.e. our relationships with the young people in our midst and all around us. Consider these facts.
The “National Study of Youth and Religion” has discovered that, contrary to what many church people fear, most youth are neither down on religion nor unreceptive to religious faith. This study found that, nationally:

  • A significant number of youth are involved with religion, and a small but significant number of these are very devoted.
  • The religious faith of teens matters – religious involvement correlates strongly with what are broadly considered positive health, relationship and other life outcomes for youth.
  • The majority of adolescents who have faith have a very conventional and unreflective faith that is much like that of their parents. The majority of teens who are not religious are not anti-religion so much as indifferent to it. In this way they are also like their parents. In short, young people are more like than unlike their parents in religious outlook and commitment.
  • Parents not peers are the most influential persons in most adolescents’ lives – at least through their early twenties. This is true despite the signals normal teens regularly send their parents to “leave them alone” or “give them space.” When asked the question, “Do you wish to change your family in any way?” most answered, “I wish I were closer to my parents.”
  • Parents are the most important youth ministers. Having parents who are religiously active is the most important variable contributing to a teenager’s faith identity. And if young people do not have religiously active parents, then finding adults who will “adopt” them spiritually made the biggest difference.
  • A relationship with God is important to young people less because of youth group experiences or a week at summer camp and more because they encounter God’s love through their families, through life in a congregation or through the deep investment of faithful adults who take an interest in them.
    What I hear in all this is that relationships here between adults and young people are important – perhaps more than we sometimes realize. That tells me that we would be wise to use Trisha’s beginning to work with us as a time to reexamine those relationships and strengthen them where we can.

Perhaps, we’d do well to begin by asking ourselves questions like these:

  • What opportunities are here for young people to interact with and learn alongside of adults who are actively engaged in growing and serving in faith?
  • What opportunities are there for adults to learn about faith from the questions, insights and examples of young people?
  • What opportunities are there for parents to find encouragement and support for their critical role as faith sharer/developer?
  • How hospitable is our congregation to the actual presence and participation of young people in every arena of church life?
  • How determined is our congregation to make sure that our church is in every
  • sense of the phrase a “safe space” for young people?

Join me in grappling with these questions. Feel free to seek me out to discuss
where your grappling leads you.

Happy New Year !