Youth mentoring in Parksville provides experience, education and spiritual growth
In July 2020, our parish community of St. Anne & St. Edmund, Parksville, began a youth mentoring and employment program called “The Friends of Clare and Francis” with four high school and university students: Juliette, Allison, Evan and Luke.
I provided the mentoring and daily supervision for the summer program and coordinated the spiritual formation and Sunday programming elements of the program. Our church’s program associate, Mandy Truman, provided hands-on leadership and mentoring in all matters relating to the church building, grounds and cleaning during the week. Our priest associate, Christine Muise, and senior program associate, Kathy Miller, provided additional leadership in the summer. In the late fall and winter, Christine took over the lead with spiritual formation and Sunday programming.
Together, we formed The Friends of Clare and Francis, a team of eight youth and adults ready to implement “Letting Our Light Shine” – our parish’s program of outreach and ministry that we initiated at our annual vestry meeting in February 2020 as part of the wider diocesan initiative “Transforming Futures.” “The Friends of Clare and Francis” was an organic follow-up to and natural expansion of the previous year’s summer youth program, and was designed to give youth vital life experiences, education and service opportunities.
During a global pandemic, when so many of our elders and volunteers have been safely sheltering, the formation of a small youth-based workforce enabled us to continue providing our services to the faith and wider community. With the help and initiative of our youth and their supervisors, we were able to address safety and sanitation in the church and carry out groundskeeping, beautification and cemetery and churchyard care — and combine this with an opportunity for compassionate action and personal and spiritual growth by following in the footsteps of Clare and Francis of Assisi, our spiritual guides from the 13th century!
Our aim was to allow our students to experience a rhythm of “work” and “prayer.” Sitting in silence for 20 minutes of meditation was “work,” just as 20 minutes of lawn mowing or weeding was “prayer.” An hour in church to create a safe environment for in-person worship, or to share in leading worship through readings, music and liturgy was “work,” just as an hour of sanitizing surfaces and cleaning floors, offered in a spirit of co-operation and gratitude, was a form of “prayer-in-motion.”
Our youth team gradually expanded their role within Sunday programming through singing and instrumental music, public reading and speaking, and serving at the altar, as well as performing the vital tasks of registering those who attended, and maintaining the new safety and sanitation routines that have become standard parts of our lives over 2020-21. We were glad to welcome one additional youth, Hope, who added both her vocal gifts in music and her volunteer participation in the team for a few days of outdoor work, including the restoration of our memorial garden.
The educational component of the program was based on varying degrees of engagement with a number of Franciscan-inspired resources including “Beyond the Birdbath,” an online summer course with Franciscan priest Richard Rohr; the PBS documentary The Sultan and the Saint; the apps Time to Pray and The Daily Office from the Mission of St. Clare; and the “21-Day Meditation Experience” with Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. We also participated in “Embers from the Fire,” an online interactive circle that ran weekly in the spring and monthly in the summer and featured readings from Richard Wagamese’s book Embers and resources from the Disciple booklet, authored by National Anglican Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald. We were graced with two sessions in which Archbishop MacDonald also “Zoomed in” personally to participate in our sessions, including singing a song for us with his guitar.
In the summer, we ran a socially-distanced retreat for a limited number of participants at the interfaith Bethlehem Centre in Nanaimo, under the theme of “creation-centred spirituality.” We ran this as an in-person event in a beautiful lakeside environment, and also broadcasted the teaching sessions through the Spirituality Beyond Borders Facebook page. Juliette, Allison, Evan and Luke assisted in running the program and participated as retreatants. The teaching materials engaged with Scripture, the tradition of the mystics and questions of action in our current ecological crises.
Our retreat featured seasoned spiritual teachers Pearl Gervais and Bishop Remi De Roo. Pearl is a wonderful animator, teacher, author and facilitator of spiritual growth, and a stellar teacher of Enneagram spirituality. In one of our more memorable sessions, Bishop De Roo, 96, posed as Thomas Aquinas, Pearl was Hildegard of Bingen, and I played the role of Francis of Assisi.
Juliette summarized her experience for our parish council this way: “My job at St. Anne & St. Edmund has been an immensely educational, enriching and developmental experience. I have grown in my skills and confidence as an employee and team member. I feel so much more prepared to enter the world as a qualified and spiritual individual.”