Priority: Youth & Young Adult Ministry

From the Spring 2014 issue of the Virginia Episcopalian: Staff Q&A with Paris Ball

What’s most exciting to you about the work Virginians are doing in youth ministry right now?

I think that what’s most exciting to me are the natural collaborations that are bubbling up when it comes to new ways of doing ministry together. One of the things the Office of Christian Formation is doing is a series of events called the Youth Leader Connections. We meet twice per semester for a 90-minute session in the evenings, and anyone who works in youth ministry can gather with us.

What we’ve seen with these events is that people are excited about collaborating with each other. They are energized by sharing their stories with other people who are doing the same work as they. And they’re looking for ways to connect with other groups.

We’re seeing these overlaps and connections on the parish level, on the diocesan level and on the provincial level as well. There’s a natural energy and interest in collaborating.

You’ve recently spent time visiting with all of the campus ministry programs in the Diocese of Virginia. Tell us what you’ve seen.

There’s no one-size-fits-all campus ministry package. Doing campus ministry really depends on the setting, and is defined by the participants. The participants change every four years – and that can be a benefit and a challenge. It’s hard to lead a congregation that has such a frequently changing membership.

But what that changing composition points to is a really healthy vision for campus ministry that’s centered around the goal of helping teach young people to be a part of a worshipping community. That’s really a key element that I’m starting to see across the board: this idea that we are helping young adults learn what it means to be part of a church community. We’ve done our job well when, at the end of their years of college, they aren’t starting from scratch but are leaving with some tools to help find their next church.

One thing that I really love about visiting the campus ministries is seeing how different each one is . Young people coming together to share meals, to worship together and to support each other through challenging times and struggle together over issues of faith is a commonality across all of our campus ministries. But how that actually looks is totally different from one school to the next.

What trends do you see developing when it comes to how the Church incorporates and works with young adults?

Actually, I don’t know if we are seeing the trends yet. I know that there have been these waves of trends when it comes to young adult ministry – for example, integrating technology, or relying on alternative worship styles. But as that wave has passed, what seems to be moving into its place is an emphasis on returning to our ancient roots.

Our intentional community at Grace on the Hill, an Episcopal Service Corps program for young adults that is a partnership between St. Andrew’s, Richmond, and the Diocese, is an example of that. It has a connection to a sense of Monasticism, living in community, the practices of breaking bread together, sharing common life and prayers together. The rule of life that the residents commit to is a practice of developing community covenants that goes back to the desert fathers and mothers. Coming together as a community and stating our commitments together are really ancient practices. It doesn’t look ancient now, but that’s what it is.

Services of compline are also becoming very popular. That’s a very ancient liturgy that doesn’t have anything to do with technology at all, but it is attracting young adults because of its simplicity and its openness. But I’m not sure that’s a new trend.

There’s something next and I’m not sure what it is. I wonder what role technology will continue to play when it comes to reaching out to the young. I do see and feel that there is a new energy emerging, bubbling up, but I don’t think we can see it yet.

How do you see our approach to Youth and Young Adult Ministry growing and evolving in the years to come? What’s on the horizon?

I don’t know where it’s definitely going, but I think it’s outside of the church walls. And I hope that’s not too radical. But as we move on with young adult ministry and youth ministry, we’re going to see more and more things happening out of church. My hope is that we will retain the connection – to a congregation, to coming together in community worship – and that we will continue to look for ways that communities can gather intergenerationally. But I think that we’re going to see more and more gatherings, worship settings that are out in the world.