Our children and youth are gifts given to us by God. We are stewards entrusted with the responsibility of nurturing them in the faith of the Church.
A Word about Terminology
Regardless of terminology (youth minister, youth worker, volunteer) we are all equally responsible, spiritually, and morally, for the safety and well-being of our youth. In addition, we must also recognize that Church organizations are not immune from legal liability. Our desire to help, our interest in, and our willingness to spend time with our Church's youth is a very real ministry. Therefore, for the sake of this publication we shall use the term youth minister to refer to anyone planning, running, or assisting in a youth program or activity.
There are few ministries that are as powerful as youth ministry. Many refer to youth ministry as ministry for the future, neglecting that our youth are a very real part of the Body of Christ right now. While this attitude is incomplete, it does express the profound long-lasting effect youth ministry has on the life of the Church. Today's young people are tomorrow's priests, teachers, parish presidents, Church leaders, theologians and bishops. The work we do as youth ministers directly affects both the present and future of the Church.
Understanding youth ministry as a ministry for the present life of the Church cannot be overstated. Each time we bring infants and children to the chalice at the Divine Liturgy, we declare they are genuine members of the Church. St John Chrysostom says that the Church has no greater concern than the educating of its young people in the faith. Orthodoxy has always affirmed that everything we have comes as gifts from God and that, as stewards, we are to nurture and offer everything back to Him who has given it to us. This is most evident in our children and youth. We are stewards entrusted with their care.
As youth ministers we become advisors to the young people with whom we come in contact. Their trust gives us direct access to their deepest hopes and fears, making them vulnerable. Because of this we can hurt them as easily as console them. These actions often have profound life-long effects. For this reason we must expend every effort to enlist the best possible people for our youth ministry.
Understanding, the importance of the youth minister's role, the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries has developed a Youth Ministry Personnel Form as part of a regularized selection process. The form is confidential and confirms how seriously we, as a Church, view our youth ministry through our concern for quality personnel and thorough planning. It gives people interested in youth ministry a chance to express their talents and some of the types of activities in which they would be interested in becoming involved. If completed on a larger scale, perhaps by the entire parish or deanery as a part of their ongoing profile, it also gives the youth director/coordinator a supply of diverse personnel from which to draw. Being able to target specific people for specific tasks would reduce the amount of dependence on a few people and lower instances of burnout. With this approach more people would be encouraged to become involved since they would be presented with clearly defined tasks that match their abilities and interests.
Some Staff Requirements
It's important that all personnel be at least 18 years of age and at least two years older than the group with whom they are working. While encouraging peer ministry, we must ensure that a sufficient number of adults are available to provide the proper supervision at any given activity or event. The guidelines for this are described under the Supervision section.
It's also important that we check the person's past church membership and work history. Someone who has jumped from parish to parish, or job to job may not be the best person to witness a life of commitment to our young people. For this reason it is important to examine the reasons behind such people's histories. We recommend that people be established in their current parish for six months prior to becoming actively involved in a parish's or diocese's youth ministry.
It is absolutely crucial that references be given and checked and that the criminal records check authorization be completed (see attached form). Such checks into criminal histories are especially important if questions are raised about a specific person.
Both these forms should be completed by the bishop or parish priest as the head of the diocese or parish. It can also be completed by those persons they appoint (diocesan youth director /parish youth coordinator) to facilitate this area of the Church's life. It is sad and unfortunate, but we must come to terms with the reality that some people would misuse the trust given to them by the Church and its children and youth. Instances of sexual and physical abuse in North America have been reported with increasing frequency in recent years and we must be prepared to go the extra mile and ask difficult questions for the safety and well being of our children and youth.
After this legwork is completed, it is essential that an interview take place by the bishop, parish priest, diocesan youth director, or parish youth coordinator. This step is advantageous for both the youth minister as well as those "in charge." At this interview both parties can express and discuss their expectations and concerns. An interview sheet has been enclosed along with the personnel form. The sheet contains a series of questions that attempt to expose histories that might influence a person’s ability to work with minors. If a person does answer yes to any of the questions, he or she should be considered for or encouraged to assist in another area of the Church’s ministry. Of course the bishop or parish priest may use his discretion. If a legal issue is mentioned, the interviewer should contact the police department that handled the case to receive further clarification.
Regardless of whether they are volunteers or compensated staff, everyone involved in the supervision of minors should be required to go through this process. Its purpose is to ensure that everyone involved realizes the importantance of the work they are doing and the profound responsibility that goes along with it. Completed forms should be kept on file at the parish office and copies are to be sent to the Diocesan Chancery c/o the Youth Director. These forms are confidential and should be viewed only by the diocesan bishop, parish priest or persons they appoint (diocesan, deanery, or parish youth director/coordinator). Everyone who is involved in youth activities and events should:
- complete the Personnel Form;
- be at least 18 years old and two years older than the group with whom they are working;
- be a member of their current parish for at least six months;
- go through a reference check; have an interview with the person in charge of youth activities.