Ministering to Our Youth from Afar

Story author
Gretchen Baker-Smith

Youth Ministry takes many forms, especially these days. Since the pandemic-related restrictions on physical gathering began, our elementary and middle-school programs have been hosting “hangouts” online for retreat attenders. We started them as an experiment. It felt intuitively essential to find ways to remind them that they are not alone. They are not invisible. They are part of a wider circle of people who know and care about each other.

It’s the spontaneous grins, even on the faces of the shy ones, that’s so striking. As soon as they see other kids they know, their faces shift. Parents express their gratitude both for the support for their children but also for themselves. They hear their children talking and laughing with their friends, within their faith community, and find themselves smiling, too.

When we can share our feelings, our stories, our laughter and tears with each other, we feel more hope and joy, we build more resilience and, sometimes, we can open up a little more space for Light and grace in our hearts.

Though we think that young people are constantly connected via technology, many of them are not in meaningful ways, especially elementary and middle schoolers. Without the scaffolding of school to help—“what’s the homework,” “when’s soccer practice”—many don’t feel comfortable reaching out to more than their very best of friends. And when they do, what’s shared happens in different rhythms and bursts of tempo than most adult conversations. But they really need to feel connected.

Local meetings and quarters can offer true spiritual nurturing—ministry—to young people by simply helping them be together. It’s not only easy to do—it’s also full of a lot of joy and fun.

A few things we’ve found helpful:

1. Learn about best practices for ensuring safety while hosting youth groups online, beginning with not posting Zoom links publicly. We have found this resource from Britain Yearly Meeting to be excellent.

2. Schedule specific blocks of time—60 to 90 minutes—on a regular schedule lets young people and their families plan.

3. Select a topic or activity. This can be helpful, especially with elementary-school-aged children. We’ve had a couple of joke swaps, a talent show, a simple pop-up-card making workshop, and a day making cards of cheer for isolated Quakers across New England. Guest readers (favorite retreat staff), creative re-workings of games, and show-and-tells on something you’re making/baking/creating have also worked. Silly topics seem to really help get everyone over the awkwardness of being on screens together. Laughter is healing.

4. Reach out for support. I would be happy to provide support to monthly or quarterly meetings who want to try offering youth hangouts. I would love to swap ideas and take-aways. Email me to start a conversation about this.