In this blog post, I was asked to describe my motivations for devoting this year to youth ministry and what I hope to gain from the experience. Instead of merely giving you a list, I’ll tell you a story. It’s a little sad at first, but fear not! There is a happy ending.
On a cool night in September 2012, I found myself curled up in the backseat of a taxi, driving through the stunning landscape of a small, seaside town in Scotland. I was crying like an infant, sadly oblivious to the beauty around me. The hotel where I had left my mother and stepfather fell further and further into the distance, and I faced four long months without them while I studied abroad at the University of St Andrews.
Now, was I being a bit histrionic? Perhaps (and I shudder to think how uncomfortable the poor driver must have been). But I’m also certain that you’ve felt some variation of what I was feeling in that taxi. A decision that had once seemed mature and adventurous had shifted to seeming incredibly stupid. I had left a school that I knew and loved for a new country that looked cold, cloudy, and full of strangers. I silently chastised myself for purposefully seeking out challenge and change. Of course, we all know that some change is good for us. But right then, facing the bitter taste of reality, I just couldn’t bring myself to consider long-term benefits. Why rock the boat so dramatically, I thought, when you were already safe and happy?
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I survived that night, went to my classes, and fell in love with St Andrews. I still think of the place fondly, and would love to go back. But you might also be wondering what any of this has to do with youth ministry. Perhaps the connection is tenuous, but allow me to make a brief argument for it.
Quality youth ministry may not cause the sorrow I felt that night in Scotland. But it certainly can inspire a healthy level of discomfort. We consider challenging scriptures, engage in service in unfamiliar communities, and allow ourselves to be emotionally vulnerable with one another. Such activities can make us feel exposed, unsettled, frustrated, guilty, and resentful. Yes, there is comfort in the knowledge these are growing experiences. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some individuals feel the way I felt that night. Why bother doing such things if they inspire such negative emotions? Why not focus on the things that make us feel secure and content?
All in all, I want to do youth ministry because I want to play a role, however small, in helping youth deal with the sometimes painful emotions that come with challenges. Feeling briefly resentful, exhausted, or frightened is to be expected. The important part is learning how to get out of the taxi, go to bed, and get up the next morning.
And, of course, these are skills I need to personally practice as well. It’s all part of the journey.
Annie Salorio currently serves as the Youth Ministry Assistant for the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. She also is a member of DioPA's Servant Year program.