The Wander Years
For several years now I have been working with youth and young adults in the Diocese of Texas. Every year I volunteer to teach a few courses for the summer Christian Leadership Conference for high school aged youth from around the diocese. These students are the ones who have shown an interest in their faith and spirituality as they progress through high school and feel a call to help develop the future for youth and young adults in the diocese. I have been working with the idea of “Life After Youth Group” when teaching at CLC. What does life after youth group look like? What does it mean for each of us? What can we do to make it what we want and need it to be?
We know as a church there are commonly several years lost in our youthful spiritual journey. From the ages of 16 – 22 we start to see youth making their own choices about what their spiritual journey looks like. They are no longer being told what to do and listening, or what to think and listening. It is the age where we must make our own conclusions about what our faith life means to us. Is this my church or my parent’s church? Is this what I believe or what I was told to believe? How does my faith work with the life I am living now?
The students I work with at CLC are the ones who have shown an interest in continuing their faith journey by participating as they move from high school into college, but even some of them get lost along the way. Why is this? Do they not feel free to ask the questions? Do they think they have to have all the answers? Do they know it is ok to question along the way?
I recently heard from a new Episcopalian that it was refreshing to hear clergy say that they did not have all the answers. We are always growing. Scripture is always changing in what it means to us at each moment. Every time we hear a prayer it touches us in a different way. Youth need to know this is ok. The best way for them to stay active in their faith is to keep asking the questions and questioning the answers. This is the only way to keep moving forward on the journey. We have to keep learning as we go.
Youth making the transition to college have even more choices to make and life is changing even faster so it is hard to stay in touch with faith. There are many ways to stay engaged, but the church must do its job to keep the young mind interested.
In my course on life after youth group we talk about how to find a new church and how to stay connected to your home parish. It is a choice to go to church or get involved. In college there are many pressures for time and it is hard to pick church over sleep. Being active in faith is like an exercise program; it has to be a habit. Once out of practice, it is hard to go back. If life in youth group was good, we need to encourage youth to stay involved, perhaps to become a sponsor and help out. Encourage them to write back to their home parishes to keep them informed on what they are doing, to join a new church and volunteer and most of all, to be an example for friends and make attending to their faith a habit.
Ed Ziegler is the Youth and Young adult Minister at Trinity Church in Houston, Texas. This article was originally printed in the April 2010 of Broadcast as “The Six Years that Got Lost.” It is reprinted with permission.