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All hands on deck

Turning the good ship SS Ministry even as it continues sailing in uncharted waters

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Sensei Minimal via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Wednesday’s edition of Leading Theologically took on a nautical theme as host the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty and guest Gina Yeager-Buckley launched into this topic: “Turning the Ship: What Ministry Feels Like Right Now.”

Listen to the full conversation between Hinson-Hasty, senior director for Theological Funds Development for the Committee on Theological Education of the PC(USA) and the Presbyterian Foundation, and Yeager-Buckley, associate for Presbyterian Youth and Triennium, by going here or here.

“In some ways, this is a pessimistic title I’ve given you,” Yeager-Buckley told Hinson-Hasty. “But I think that’s OK because a lot of us are feeling this way right now. Right now it feels like I’m in the hold where the steamy hot engines are and I have no windows and no steering wheel and I’m being asked to turn this ship, cancel an event that’s beloved by thousands, and then figure out something new.”

“I think we are being asked constantly in ministry to turn this ship,” she said. “For me right now as a follower of Jesus Christ and a youth worker I feel like I’m being asked to turn a ship of hundreds of years of white privilege and turn it so I’m grabbing young people onto this boat. It’s really hard and good and baffling work, turning it while also building it and needing to repaint it and, oh yeah, there’s big holes in it and it’s sinking.”

“It’s not like, ‘Shipbuilding. It’s fun!’” Yeager-Buckley said. “It’s hard.”

“I am a sailor. I get this,” Hinson-Hasty said. “Your sail tears or your rudder breaks. You’ve got to figure out new ways of doing things. I think pastors and youth workers in the church feel this way right now.”

Yeager-Buckley said those pastors and youth workers who’ve spent two years engaged mainly in online ministry “are paddling with their hands. We’re dealing with imperfect technology, but I think we’re getting pretty good with it.”

Gina Yeager-Buckley

“One thing I hope it teaches us is we will make mistakes and we will have to learn from them and give grace,” she said. “Things may never be like they were, but certain parts will come back. I don’t want people to feel hopeless [about ministry to young people], especially youth workers. We will always have young people around us.”

What Yeager-Buckley strives to do more of in her own ministry is “find the energy to work to want relationships more than programs. At the start of the pandemic, part of me wishes we had slowed down like everyone else, watched the world and developed relationships more than throwing out programs. … What’s going on in the minds and hearts of these anxious young people that we have?”

Not only are many young people anxious, thanks in part to social media, “they have more ways of sharing their anxiety directly,” Yeager-Buckley said.

In spite of all the challenges, churches and worshiping communities are finding ways to minister to young people — even when the young people aren’t readily apparent.

“I just saw the coolest thing,” Yeager-Buckley told Hinson-Hasty, tacking into a story told to her by a colleague in 1001 New Worshiping Communities. A certain church — as other churches have in recent years — wondered how to continue with its youth ministry when there were no more youth attending regularly. This church “summoned up their energy and their creativity and started doing things to support their local school’s sports teams,” Yeager-Buckley said, including providing them snacks and “respite care” for the athletes’ parents over the holidays.

“I love that. Those are the stories I want people to hear,” she said. It matters, she said, to ask a parent, “What can I do for you as a parent? We need to support these accompaniers of youth and their families.”

“On this ship, people know each other by name,” Hinson-Hasty replied. “We are part of a community and we aren’t waiting for people to come to us. We’re engaging them. I want to be on that ship.”

She encouraged Presbyterians to do one thing they’re renowned for: engaging their brains.

“There’s a lot of good that happens in some of the Facebook groups I’m on, but I want to say, get your Bible and notebook out,” Yeager-Buckley said. “Get your brain out and get to work. In youth ministry our call is to accompany young people and the people who surround young people. You have to remain inspired, and sometimes that means reading some articles or a book and then writing a Sunday night youth program from that.”

When the topic vectored into best and worst boat experiences, Yeager-Buckley had a ready answer for the latter. When she and her husband Andrew were celebrating their honeymoon in the Bahamas, they rented a powerboat and took it into a harbor with beautiful turquoise water. The couple got out of the boat and into the water, enjoying the surroundings. When they climbed back into the boat, it wouldn’t start.

“That’s where we spent 13 hours,” she told Hinson-Hasty. “We had to get rescued on our honeymoon.”

The Yeager-Buckleys called continually on the radio, at one point connecting with an ocean liner hundreds of miles away. The crew member said, “OK, honeymooners,” then radioed a ship that was closer, which radioed the marina, which sent out rescuers to bring the couple back at 2 o’clock in the morning.

The Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty

“The rest of the honeymoon, we heard,” Yeager-Buckley said, drawing the back of her hand to her face, “Did you hear about the honeymooners?”

“What a great story! A lot of people feel like they’re stranded and the boat won’t start,” Hinson-Hasty told her. “It was working beautifully before, and now we’re calling somebody hundreds of miles away [for help].”

“Friends, go in peace and serve the Lord,” Yeager-Buckley said, offering listeners a charge to close the conversation. “Go out onto the deck. Climb out of the engine room, breathe in the air and look around for each other. We need each other right now. We need to be inspired and we need to inspire each other. You can do that.”

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