The goal posts are constantly moving
I started in youth ministry about 30 years ago when I was a young person in Australia. Then I went to the monastery and have been in the UK pastorally for the past 20 years. I was sent, by Pope Shenouda III, the late head of the Coptic Church, to look after young people here. The observation he made was quite precise, despite the fact he was an 80-year-old man living in Egypt. He said, ‘The problem in the world is not that people are doing the wrong thing, but that they have lost perspective on what the wrong thing is.’
I think, particularly for young people, the goal posts are constantly moving. With the emergence of social media, the new consumerist mindset, and with the global village context of everyone being connected to everybody – it has blurred lines and it has become more and more challenging for young people to know what is right. For us to be standing by their side, not necessarily telling them what to do, but teaching them, guiding them, mentoring them on what the process is for righteous living, to make the right choices, to live a good and holy life – that is what our purpose is.
The Coptic Orthodox Church prioritises youth ministry in the UK. From the moment I arrived in the UK 20 years ago, that has been my primary ministry, besides my own local ministry. After becoming a bishop in 1999, I established an umbrella body called Coptic Youth Mission which now includes 15 different national youth programmes.
These range from annual retreats, to campus ministry, sports ministry, young adults ministry and conferences. My perspective has always been to create a diverse range of ministries so that every young person can find him or herself in the midst of that, and be able to make use of their own talents and contribute.
You are dealing with a group of people who are not merely impressionable but are immensely effective and passionate
There is a wonderful expression from Pope Shenouda III, ‘A church without youth is a church without a future’. In churches or parishes which do not focus on, value or invest in youth ministry, those congregations become aged and dwindle. Other churches which invest (not just financially) become booming communities. The other side of that is that young people without a church are young people without a future: if we do not give them something to hold onto, they will seek other routes which will not be as effective or empowering as God would be in their lives. We would have lost that wonderful energy for them, for the Church and indeed for the world.
Here is what I would say to youth workers: you are dealing with a group of people who are not merely impressionable but are immensely effective and passionate. They have a wonderful malleable entity in their hands – a priceless gift in youth. When directed properly this becomes a wonderful gift to the whole world as they then become that light in the world. They have a fresh perspective and outlook – they can contribute immensely. Young people are becoming much more interested and involved – they are not the people of the future, they are the people of the present who will shape the future.
His Grace Bishop Angaelos is General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom. He is also moderator of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.