Last year our church’s confirmation class experienced a minor conflict that is probably all too familiar. One of the teenagers in the group was unable to attend the overnight confirmation retreat because he had an important hockey game. This of course posed the question of what to do. Reschedule the retreat? Press on without him and hope he could somehow “make up” the experience? Well, the priest, who happens to be my beautiful wife, had a simple and inspired idea. “What if we all just went to the hockey game?” After some discussion, everyone agreed it was the best option. And the entire confirmation class, adult mentors and all went to the hockey rink to watch the game.
As you might imagine this was a very powerful experience for everyone involved. The young hockey player, felt loved and included. He practically had his own cheering section rooting him on. And his family felt the support too. Having the community gather to encourage and affirm their son communicated that their church was much larger than it’s own walls.
Perhaps the best part of this story is that my brilliant wife didn’t miss the opportunity for some Christian formation. While the confirmation group sat in the stands watching the game, she asked them, “Where do you see God right now in this experience?” The young confirmands thought and began to share that they saw God in the cheers of the crowd, the teamwork on display, and the love of family members rooting on various players. And then one young man said something surprising. He said, “God is in the puck!” Everyone was slightly taken back, but when my wife asked him to say more, he explained that the puck wasn’t on anyone’s side and allowed everyone to play. God was right there at the center of everything. The saying “God is in the puck” became a mantra for the group for the rest of their time in confirmation.
For me this story is emblematic of youth ministry in our present context. I hear so often that young people are busy, over scheduled, over programmed, etc. And it’s true. They are. I also hear the despair that families don’t make church a “priority” in the same way they used to and that “regular church attendance” isn’t so regular these days. Or the annoyance that certain sports have games and tournaments on Sundays, forcing families and young people to choose between participating in these activities or coming to church or youth group.
These realities leave many churches and leaders feeling perplexed and discouraged about ministry with young people. They wonder what to do or what can even be done. I think this story points the way. What if we all just went to the hockey game? I think that not only would we show our young people in various activities that we love and support them. I think we would also find that God is right there in the middle of it all, inviting us to a community even larger and more powerful than we thought it could be.