Emma Loane likes a challenge. She has faced a few in following God’s plan for her life. Emma is a new student in the CMYT program. She had known that God was calling her to mission and ministry for awhile, and felt that America had to be a stop for her as she was learning and following in God’s plan. Emma wasn’t sure how to incorporate a trip to the States until she found the CYMT program during her final year of university in St. Andrews, Scotland. The thing that drew her to CYMT was the three-fold emphasis of the program that provided a graduate level training experience, practical and focused youth ministry training, and on-the-job experience at a local church working as the sole youth director, along with a weekly check-in with an experienced youth minister. So she accepted the challenge to move to America.
After moving here, Emma faced her second challenge starting a youth and children’s ministry from scratch. Emma serves at Trinity Church in Spring Hill,a church plant of Brentwood UMC. She finds this an exhilarating and fulfilling experience. The ministry there is young but growing very quickly and increasing weekly. Emma loves the flexibility and rapidly evolving process of reaching new people and establishing a new community of faith.
Once she figured out her responsibilities at her church, she was given the challenge to meet the kids in the area and figure out their interests and needs, all while being from another culture. Emma immediately saw the commonalities between the youth in America and Northern Ireland with the social pressures that adolescents face. But then she saw the obvious differences. In Northern Ireland, there is the extra dimension of sectarianism and religious and political division in schools and communities that is rooted deep down in the psyche of teenagers and adds to the social pressures. She also noticed that the aspirations of children and youth in Brentwood and Spring Hill differ from the ambitions of the youth in Ireland. Many kids that Emma worked with in Northern Ireland would not go to college, out of choice or convention; she hasn’t found this the case so far in Tennessee.
Drawing from her experience in leadership positions in churches and Christian organizations and her studies in social and cultural geography, Emma finds it is essential for a youth pastor to know the culture that the youth are in. She says God is teaching her here in the States that the differences and similarities, when it comes to ministry, cannot and should not be presumed. Every situation is unique when working with youth.
When asked to share a story about something exciting that has happened since her arrival, Emma shared this: “I have been visiting a Middle School in Spring Hill over the past few months, eating lunch with a couple of groups of 6th and 7th graders. It’s a time that I really look forward to most weeks, although it’s a little scary as well. I haven’t been completely sure whether my presence there or the time spent chatting and messing around in the dining hall did much good. However, a couple of weeks ago, before Christmas break, one of the girls I met at school arrived at church with her mom and younger sister. The only place she would have heard of or had a connection with my church is during the brief 30-40 minutes I spend with them talking about teachers, classes, boys, sport and school lunches. This is wonderful confirmation that it is God at work in these places. This was a special moment for me.
Emma hopes when she completes the CYMT program she will be a better minister to youth and families and have grown in wisdom and trust as she works within a different cultural setting from which she grew up. She also hopes that over these 2 years she will grow in her faith. As Emma’s coach says about her, “God will change the world through Emma… starting here in the states and then to Ireland, then…then who knows? I have not stopped being impressed with her passion for ministry or her intelligence. She has, as of yet, not stopped trying to be better than she was the day before.”
CYMT is proud to announce the expansion of our original initiative into Theology Together 2.0. CYMT aims to develop a curriculum to be used in local congregations and ministries. Taking what we have learned about engaging youth in deep theological reflection during missional experiences and embedding those processes into congregational youth ministries.
"I hope students come away from my courses with the ability to think more deeply, richly and theologically about their youth ministry practice. I think a lot of what happens in youth ministry happens unreflectively and can be deforming to young people, and my courses are intended to give students a theological framework for evaluating and reforming their youth ministry practice."
Of course, I want students to drink deeply from the academic readings, lectures and discussions, and I want them to be informed by the academics. But more than that, I want them to see that youth ministry is a calling of God, an important part of God’s mission in the world, one that should give them pride and evoke humility at the same time.