St Albans Church

Blonde, 22, looking for friendship

By Selena Ingles

"Crosstalk", March 2013

– Selina (Mullin) Ingles helps lead youth ministry at St. Alban’s, Ottawa.

This past summer I moved to Ottawa and began attending St. Alban’s, in Sandy Hill. I am also a recent graduate from St. Stephen’s University in NB, which is located in a similarly named small town. I was concerned about moving from the close-knit and socially saturated academic environment out into the wider world. I was leaving all my friends and family, arriving newly married to a big city. I was very lonely for a while, and now nearing the half-year mark (hard to believe) I have begun to develop the sort of encouraging and intimate relationships that eradicate that kind of loneliness.

St. Alban’s has been a great place to connect with like-minded folks, but also to create unexpected connections with dissimilar people. You may be wondering what a 22- year-old’s feelings have to do with a youth column. Well, this is not the first time in my life that I have had an overwhelming feeling of loneliness, nor the first time this emptiness was attended to by the church.

When I was in Junior High and High School I was very lonesome. I would do many things and beame many personas to be accepted and loved. Yet, the only time during the week I was invited out, the only place I was ever missed, was at youth group. The greater part of my social training took place there with those friends, brothers, visitors, leaders and congregation members, who took me into their confidence and never seemed to mind listening to my problems.

If you met me today you might laugh at the thought of a timid, anxious and awkward version of myself. I have certainly grown in leaps and bounds since but occasionally old feelings well up. Coming to a new church I could feel the 13-year-old “me” inside, wringing her hands as she tried to manoeuvre and connect. But, everyone at St. Alban’s made an effort to accept me and engage in a meaningful relationship. People blossom when given that opportunity, and it reminded me of the efforts of my youth group sponsors. These two experiences have very much influenced my philosophy when it comes to youth ministry.

I am not a priest, or an academic, or a gifted Bible study leader. I know my gifts lie in loving and connecting with others. As well, the kids I’ve met in our parish are each interesting and deep people. It is a pleasure to hangout with them after church or go with them to events. Dianna Butler Bass talks about the need to realize that the new generation is not interested in discipleship and doctrine. I know that I am not. Instead they want a place where they are known, loved without question, and where they can explore and be challenged in their gifts. We look to fellowship and help our youth feel as though they are a part of the community that are both being invested in and encouraged to invest into our church.

I can’t say our youth program at St. Alban’s is perfect. It is small and really only just starting out. But I do know we have some really cool kids, and our conversations have been entertaining but also very thoughtful. I often ask myself whether I had the depth of insight that they seem to, but I also have to laugh and remember I had the same youthful arrogance (and probably still do). My advice, then, to the church that is looking to see their youth program grow and succeed is this: Throw out your studies and lectures. Invite, don't pressure, your youth to come together. Make them snacks and hot chocolate, and ask them to think of every possible idea of what they would like to do together. What are they reading? What are they watching? What do they care about? Then begin to make for them a casual and safe place to share their passions, to explore their selfhood, and eventually make friends. We are all looking for acceptance in a community of people we resonate with. Allow them that same privilege. Programming, though sometimes helpful, all too often impedes fellowship and community. Be honest about this with the young people in your church community, and let them mould their own vision of what their ministry should look like.