I grew up Catholic and the ritual of liturgy sometimes bored me, but many times it fascinated me, it educated me and it comforted me. I remember being bored many times by the repetitive nature of liturgy . . . saying the same thing week after week. This is only natural for a middle school kid who was fidgeting in an uncomfortable pew and a more uncomfortable polyester three piece light blue suit struggle just to stay awake, much less pay attention.
However, there were times when I caught a glimpse of the Divine. Those moments when the liturgy pointed to the Mystery of Faith. It was during those seasons where I understood at a rudimentary level that there was something Holy happening. . . that this was not just another week where we were repeating the same thing over and over. It was as if someone had poked me in my side between the 5th and 6th ribs and whispered intently in my ear, “Pay attention, this is important.” And I listened like I had never listened before. I may not have fully comprehended it. I may not have understood all the language. But I undoubtedly knew God was there.
It is through ritual and liturgy that we encounter the Divine in the ordinary.
Many years later, one Christmas Eve, I was watching Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s on television when my wife noticed that I was reciting the liturgy alongside Pope John Paul II. Somewhere in my adolescence, the words of the Mass had somehow become part of me. I took extreme comfort in this. In that moment I recognized another dynamic of my participation in The Church.
What does this have to do with Youth Ministry?
I spend a great deal of time in our introductory ministry courses exposing our students to the wonder and mystery and need for liturgy in the life of our churches. I let them peek over the wall to the other side of the Christian Tradition in order to get a glimpse of formal liturgy. We discuss how we all have liturgy, some more formal than others. We have three songs and a prayer, others have The Book of Common Prayer. We have potlucks & friend days, others have Ash Wednesday & Advent. We sometimes speak in plain language that is accessible, humble and approachable. Others speak in carefully worded language borrowed from generations past and deeply rooted in scripture that is deep, holy and divine.
BOTH ARE NEEDED.
BOTH ARE IMPORTANT.
Ivy Beckwith defines ritual as, “something we do over and over again as a way to remember or reinforce the values the ritual represents.”1 In modern youth ministry, we have segmented our young people off from the larger church body to such a degree that I think they might be missing out on the rich heritage that exists in the ritual of our faith communities. We have worked so hard to be so innovative with our young people we have tossed aside the story of who we are with our teens and they have missed a significant part of the spiritual formation–their identity.
Might we have been so innovative, so fragmented, so segregated, that they have missed out on the metanarrative of who are are? Might this be one of the reasons that they wander off from the church when they graduate youth group? Maybe our students do not possess and understanding of WHO they are in the midst of the larger, broader Christian community because they have missed out on the ritual and liturgy that lives out the story of our identity.
What are the things our youth ministries and churches are doing over and over and over again?
What values are those reinforcing?
What Identities are they forming?
What stories are they telling?
We need to have our students participate in and with the larger church’s liturgy. We need to be available to answer their questions of, “What does this mean? What is going on here?” They need to hear and experience the stories that the liturgy lives out in the midst of community.
1 Beckwith, Ivy. Formational Children’s Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story, Ritual, and Relationship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010. 21