Spiritual Advisor Message
he St. John Chrysostom Youth Worker Fund
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
NAC Teen SOYO Spiritual Advisor
The need for more trained lay youth workers was recognized by the teens of our Archdiocese who assembled at the 2002 Mid-winter Meeting of the North American Council of Teen SOYO held at the Antiochian Village. The growing awareness of this need resulted from the increase in the number of teens participating in local and regional youth activities. It is not uncommon to find, for example, that attendance at Teen SOYO meetings are the largest at Regional Delegates’ Meetings and Parish Life Conferences. Moreover, we have recently learned that more of our teens are participating in our ever expanding Summer Camp programs and local seasonal retreats. The important question is : How do these young people remain engaged in the life of their local parishes ? And, how do our parishes maintain contact with our youth in high school, college, all of whom are often employed. Then there are those who are out-of-touch, who we might see in church on holidays, weddings, baptisms, or funerals.
Currently seventeen parishes in our Archdiocese provide for a paid lay youth workers in their annual budget. Youth programs are flourishing in these parishes resulting from the priority placed upon the need for a trained youth worker. Their focus is upon meeting the spiritual and developmental needs of the faith of the teens in their local parish.
Today the need for lay youth workers to receive an education tailored to youth work in parishes in addition to gaining experience in our parishes is a growing necessity for several reasons. First of all, it must be recognized that the young people in our parishes are as much a part of the mainstream of American young people in many ways. They are challenged by the same social issues along with their peers. And so, a youth worker in our church must be knowledgeable of what our Church’s teachings are, its history and liturgical tradition of prayer and worship.
Many of our ordained clergy in parishes today were Teen SOYO officers in their youth and among the volunteers in our parishes and camp programs. Yet while many of our clergy serve as pastors and spiritual advisors to our youth today, relating to them as a clergyman is not always the same as being a lay youth worker. While the lay youth worker and clergy share much in common in ministering to our young people, each have their own unique function in youth ministry, as do parents, Godparents, extended family members and friends. A lay youth worker does much in forming bridges between people, facilitating open lines of communication, planning and organizing educational activities, and promoting fellowship in youth programs.
Moreover, working with youth today requires that a lay youth worker be equipped with adequate knowledge in many facets of ministry that extend beyond the realm of theology. These include: crisis intervention, communication skills that include the use of modern technology, experience in working with parents and clergy in parishes, effective organizational skills, to name a few.
Most importantly, a lay youth worker must be a mature adult who is committed to Christ and the Church, and whose commitment is evident from a strong personal Christian witness: being a good example, and one who is highly motivated to serve. Such a young person with a good moral character, who is honest and intelligent, is highly desired by companies who are very interested in hiring such a person who may not necessarily be trained in a specific field. Today, all too often when such qualities are recognized in young people, numerous opportunities for employment are available in various secular companies and service organizations that are capable of instantly hiring them. Consequently, the Church very often falls behind in being able to provide any means of employment for developing a vital lay ministry in our church. There are also times when many young people recruited for secular jobs easily begin discovering themselves growing detached from their life in the church altogether. Finding the time later on to become a church volunteer becomes next to impossible.