Events provide respite for ‘the adults that kids turn to when all else fails’
April 5, 2018
Presbyterian youth worker Michelle Phillips felt the weight of the world on her shoulders.
“Recently some students skipped high school,” she said, her voice trailing off. Then she explained: Speeding, the students were in a tragic car accident. One of the passengers died; the other was in critical condition. The driver walked away without any physical injuries. None of the students were involved at Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, Kansas, where Phillips serves as the director of youth and family ministry. But students in Overland Park wanted answers. They came to her asking, “Why did this happen? Why wasn’t the driver hurt?”
For Phillips, the “why” questions that come after a tragedy are the hardest part of a youth worker’s job because often the youth worker will never be able to answer them.
“It takes a lot out of you,” she says. “It hurts. Sometimes your foundation is shaken. “
When she feels this way, Phillips starts thinking of the students who come to youth group at Rolling Hills, because for some it is the only place they are accepted and feel love. In those moments she’ll close her office door. The quiet reminds her that God is present even when there are no answers to why.
It gives Phillips “enough hope and courage and faith for tomorrow” — which is what she shares with her students. “God is with us, even in the ugly.”
“Anything that rocks our society, whether it’s a school shooting or natural disaster, shatters our kids’ worlds,” she said. “We live in such fragile times.”
Youth workers like Phillips are on the front lines, constantly tending to the spiritual lives of youth. Walking with them through tragedy. Taking late-night phone calls and texts. Spending weekends leading retreats.
“They’re notorious for giving generously of themselves,” said Michael Harper, director of the Presbyterian Youth Workers’ Association (PYWA). “But they do this often at the expense of taking care of themselves.”
PYWA, in partnership with Presbyterian Mission’s Ministries with Youth, wanted to do something about that. Today they are hosting the first-ever Youth Worker Sabbath Day. Local groups across the country have organized events to enable youth workers to engage in Sabbath practices together.
Each group will begin the morning with a video presentation and program designed specifically for the event by speaker, author and spiritual director Mark Yaconelli about the significance of holy rest and restful work. Then resources offering suggested activities of prayer, art and conversation will help each group sculpt the rest of their day.
Phillips, a Sabbath group host, says PYWA is “empowering youth workers by giving them permission to take that time that will draw us closer to God.” Her group is meeting at a local church. After the morning session, they’ll go to a park to be by themselves. Some will read and others will pray. Phillips plans to paint. They’ll meet for dinner to discuss how they can support one another.
“This will give us the strength to be available,” she said. “We’re the adults that kids turn to when all else fails.”
Paul Seebeck, Mission Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Youth Worker Sabbath Day
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Lord, thank you for experiences that open our eyes to more clearly see you, and our ears to more clearly hear you. Expose in us those things that keep us from coming to you. Give us encounters that will move us in the direction where you are leading. Amen.