It may sound surprising, but not all youth ministers get excited about the idea of Youth Sunday. In fact many youth leaders are so opposed that they won’t even do one. What could be so bad about putting youth in charge of a Sunday worship service and equipping them to take leadership roles typically occupied by adults? Well many would say that “every Sunday is youth Sunday,” and that the best practice is to fully integrate young people in the life and ministry of the church every week. That’s certainly hard to argue. So what to do?
My home parish recently had a Youth Sunday service, and it renewed my faith in this much maligned staple of youth ministry. Let me tell you why I think it will have lasting impacts on our youth and our church. Our church just finished confirmation. And when the confirmands were asked what they wanted to do next, they all said they wanted to try a Youth Sunday service. But here’s where it gets good. They wanted to lead every part of the liturgy. Not just choose songs and do readings. They wanted to do the jobs we don’t typically give away. One young person wanted to be the priest! Another wanted to be deacon! They wanted to fill all the roles, not just a select few.
And the best part is that our priest, deacon, and youth minister didn’t hesitate. They simply said yes. And then got busy figuring out how to support our youth and their desire to lead. The group decided it would work well to have adults serve alongside the youth. So any time a young person was leading, there was an adult standing nearby who normally performed that role. Not to monitor or supervise, but simply to support and encourage.
The most powerful moment for me occurred when one of our teens said the absolution of sins. Normally, that’s when the priest pronounces to the congregation that our sins are forgiven after saying the confession. I’ve never heard a non-ordained person say those words in church. In that moment the priest speaks on God’s behalf, proclaiming one of the most important messages we receive in church, that we are forgiven. And this particular Sunday a thirteen year old girl was equipped, empowered, and entrusted to give that message. As she spoke the words, our priest stood beside her and made the sign of the cross over the congregation.
I think our Youth Sunday sent some powerful messages. The experience told our young people, “You can do this. We trust you, and we need you.” I think it reminded our adult leaders that one of the most important things they do is to pass on, to transfer, and to train others for ministry. And I believe the entire congregation realized that our young people are the heart of who we are as a church. They are us, and we are them. Their potential is limitless, and all we have to do is believe in them, equip them, and get out of the way. The next step is to try and do it a little more each Sunday. I think we can.