I posted earlier my attending the National Youth Workers Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is of course the Rector of all Lewes' fault.I learned a lot, got at chance to meet other people in the Youth Ministry work and got a new read on the extent to which American Protestant Christianity (APC) is on a very different page than many, if not most, Episcopalians. Conservative or Progressive, or whatever, we Episcopalians are far too sacramentally inclined, and far too given to poetic sensibility to be part of the evangelical enterprise as represented by most of the youth ministers at this conference.
It was a good experience. I was part of a six member gang from Delaware. Our Diocesan Youth Ministry Director, Teri Valente, four others - Lynn, Sally, Kat and Britta and I spent some time each day reflecting of the days' doings.(I wonder if I spelled their names right?) Teri has been to many of these events, as have some others. They helped put much of what was going on in perspective.
On Sunday we Delaware Episcopalians trooped off to the 10 AM All Saints Day Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral. It was a real joy to discover that Dean Jim Diamond was there. Jim and I were in campus ministry and The Episcopal Society for Ministry in Higher Education in an earlier incarnation. He preached a fine reflective sermon and I was reminded just how gentle and kind a man he is.
Most of the last full afternoon of the Conference (Sunday) was taken up with workshops (labs). I attended one on a research project on homosexuals titled "What We Don't Know About Gays and Lesbians: Research for a Productive Generation," and another on St. Patrick as a missionary model for youth ministry.
The research project was led by and reported on by Andrew Marin. His major claim to fame with this Conference is that last year he gave the first workshop at this conference in which fact that young people are dealing with issues of sexual identity was acknowledged and talked about.
A lot of the churches represented in this conference have apparently decided that gay and lesbian persons are sick or evil. In that light, his essential message - that young people who come out need to be treated with respect, given safe space to talk about the fact without rejection and given time, as much as necessary, for God to work in their lives - is an important pastoral point and fairly courageous. Most of the participants in the workshop seemed to want to find some way to be accepting of young people who have come out without affirming homosexuality itself. Had he been speaking from or to a more progressive group I think Andrew might have been pushing the same thing, but with the caution to progressives that we progressives often affirm but do not actually accept (in practice.)
I ended up feeling that Andrew was very constrained in his need to keep from being dismissed entirely by the evangelical push of the group. Some folk who comment on this and other blogs write about the pressures that exist to conform to either the progressive or to the conservative agenda, depending on the diocese and the times. I felt that was Andrew's situation, and at other times during the conference I felt that pressure working on me. It was a discouraging, difficult and useful experience.
The second workshop was on St. Patrick and Youth Ministry as Missionary. It reminded me of the good work of Bishop William Godfrey when he was in Uruguay. He proposed that mission work be done by small groups, rather than by individuals; that they organize their ministry and daily life under the rubric that every action of social betterment be accompanied by a parallel action of worship or prayer. So the symbol of the church in its development is that of a skeletal fish, with Christ the head, the backbone the church and the vertebrae, upper and lower, the worship and action efforts of each mission effort. The model of mission involves use of action and prayer as one.
Every evening there were meetings in "The Big Room." These were a mix of inspirational and testimonial talks accompanied by a great deal of music and some prayer. Several speakers were very good, but on the whole the time was sort of a "tribal present" version of TV evangelism.
The efforts to get everyone to sing resulted in a somewhat muted response. The band was loud, but the audience was not. I think the evangelical noise met the post modern cynicism and the enthusiasm of the first was muted by the distrust of meta-narrative music of the other.
There is a side to militant Christian evangelical music that is only a slim way away from militant Islam, The Wall (of Pink Floyd fame) or radical right or left wing political ideology in general. Songs like "My God is a Mighty God" sung by the conference band again and again promote the notion that "My" God is the one with real muscle, moxie and power. It is, however, a terrible mistake to confuse God for "My God," even if "My God" is the god of all good, true and faithful Christians. The triumphalism of this sort of music makes my skin crawl. I have to confess similar feelings about "Glorious things of Thee are spoken," mostly because of the music. Group flag saluting music with militant flavor needs to be used with extreme caution. Then again, maybe I'm just an ol' fart. No...wait. I am an ol' fart. But really, this triumphal business has got to go.
The conference was genuinely helpful for those involved in youth ministry and affirming of our work. This is a good thing, since the half-life of a youth minister is very short indeed. The expectations for this work is very high and the pay is very low and in the church pecking order youth ministers are pretty far down the line. So I want to thank Youth Specialties for making this possible, for Teri suggesting that we all go, and for the leaders of labs and workshops for getting us together to work on various topics of interest, and for the rest of the gang from Delaware who were a great support. If the Rector of all Lewes so disposes I think I will go again a year from now.