A letter from YAV Stephen Cottingham in Northern Ireland
February 2, 2010
Email: Stephen Cottingham
I've been under a bit of stress lately but don't assume it's with a negative connotation so quickly, because some stress can be a good thing. My particular case, here in my sixth month of volunteering, is once again, knowing my role. This time, however, it is from a different angle. I have busied myself with planning youth group on a Sunday night, Bible classes for BB and GB, and Bible Study for Tuesday morning. Results have been that numbers of attendance have grown, which to anyone might sound like a good thing. And it is. But with more numbers comes more responsibility and that's what's got me a bit stressed. I enjoy helping out with the youth and connecting with them to cultivate growth and nurturing, but I realize that as important as that is in the short run, if we are going to maintain that quality of involvement we're going to need more leaders in the long run. As we've been experimenting with group dynamics in the past months we've found that the smaller number of kids you have per group, in general, usually results in better communication and understanding. Further we've sorted by age and maturity so that each group can receive the message at their level of comprehension.
But with all the work that's gone into coming to these conclusions I've lost sight of some bigger picture issues like: We're in Northern Ireland(!) where people who identify themselves as Catholic or Protestant still have some scars to be healed. I've been working so long on the individual level that I had left out thinking about how these lessons could specifically help in their larger community. I felt like I had my eyes closed while I was dancing on a floor scattered with pins and needles. No wonder we're here for at least a year, because it takes you at least this long just to realize and appreciate how many dynamics you're working within. It's enough to make your head spin (and so it has mine). (And yes, earlier I ended a sentence with a preposition, so what?)
I've grown in my faith and character here as well. For instance: knowing who I am in Christ. I am Stephen Cottingham, 23 years old, 6' and 180 lb(depending on how long the party goes). I can help with the leadership roles of the youth group. I can offer ideas for how to organize and run the youth program. I can be a listening ear for those who need to talk to someone. I can give you most anything I have that you ask me for because it's out of the abundance of that which I have been given. But I couldn't do any of these things without the Holy Spirit and Christ's body — the church. And so it is because I've come to this realization that I know that I must not be the sole dependent factor in which the youth get led. In the same way that we need to continue nurturing the youth we also need to cultivate those who would lead the youth. Most people get really energized about supporting the youth but it seems like they lose a bit a of steam when it comes to "Who's gonna sign up to lead?" Ask what you can do to help out with the youth program close to you because I think it would be rare to find a program that says, "No thanks, we"ve got it all sorted."
My plan is to make the youth more visible to the congregation, currently, in terms of youth led worship and a monthly slideshow presentation to display what the kids have done over the past month. This, I feel, might help to bridge more relationship between the age gaps and shed that anxiety some get because we think we're faced with a mountain of responsibility and we don't know what to expect or how to handle it. The truth is we're responsible anyway, so if we can just knock that anxiety mountain down in our heads and crumble those things that might keep us from embracing and seeking out to help the youth, we can make a difference.