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Charting a new course: Youthworker Academy 2022

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC

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Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean, file photo.

In Acts, chapters 27 and 28, we read the story of Paul’s journey through a storm in a boat. The apostle Paul, along with other prisoners, is being taken to Rome by boat when a terrible storm comes. What gives Paul and the sailors a reason for hope?

Five youth ministry leaders explored hope and what was next for their ministries during a Dakotas storm ravaging with winds of 100 miles per hour, while seven tornadoes touched down, damaging towns and farms across eastern South Dakota.

Before the storms hit, Rev. Jeff Lathrop, a chair of the Dakotas Conference Council of Youth Ministry, met Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean, the speaker and leader for the 2022 Youthworker Academy at Living Waters Retreat at Lake Poinsett, near Arlington, South Dakota. 

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Rev. Jeff Lathrop.

“The storms came. We lost electricity, and we had to pivot quickly,” said Lathrop. “We headed to Watertown because they still had electricity. We decided to go virtual from a hotel. The number of participants ended up being less than we had planned, but it was a great experience.”

Vicky Vetter serves as the Director of Youth Ministry at Legacy United Methodist Church in Bismarck, North Dakota, and agrees with Lathrop about the numbers and the experience. “We had to change locations and formats due to storms in South Dakota, moving us online and reducing our participation numbers. That was unfortunate but resulted in a few leaders having time and getting advice from one of our nation’s leading youth ministry experts! What a gift,” said Vetter. 

Rev. Dayne Zachrison chose to attend the Youthworker Academy because of the excellence of the speaker. “Kenda Creasy Dean has been an important writer and teacher in youth ministry for several years, and when I learned that she was the leader, I registered for the conference,” said Zachrison. “For several years, the Dakotas Youthworker Academy has brought important voices here to the Dakotas to help us lead youth ministry.”

Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean is an ordained United Methodist pastor and the Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is the author of several books, including Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, The God-bearing Life (with Ron Foster), The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry (with Andrew Root), and A More Excellent Way: How Youth Ministry Can Change Theological Education, If We Let It (with Christy Lang Harelson).

Pastor Kenda shared the scripture from Acts and Paul’s experiences through the storm on a boat to inspire hope and a new course in each of the attendee's ministry. She related the journey of the apostle Paul to our journey through the COVID pandemic and encouraged participants to examine their ministry through the eyes of Paul.

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Vicky Vetter, Legacy UMC Youth Director, helps out with the kids.

“She did a wonderful job of presenting all the upheaval of the last few years weathering a pandemic as an opportunity for new growth and new expressions of ministry that would have taken many more years to develop if we had not been forced to rethink our models so abruptly,” said Vetter.

“She shared another example about the eels— Flotsam and Jetsam from the movie, ‘The Little Mermaid,’” explained Pastor Jeff. “The name Flotsam means to be discarded as useless pieces of debris. The name Jetsam refers to deliberately throwing something overboard to lighten the load. In youth ministry, we are trying to figure out what we should focus on and what we should discard. After the pandemic, should we pay attention to the youth that are not showing up now? Should we focus on new people?”

Pastor Dayne shares three ideas from Youth Worker Academy:

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    Rev. Dayne Zachrison.

    The research on the needs of youth that Kenda brought to the group shared how structured and scheduled the lives of youth can be and how, often, the best gift that a ministry can provide to youth is freedom from schedule and purpose. The purpose of the community is not necessarily what “should” be done.
  • The best youth ministry is youth-driven, not assigned by those who claim to “know better.” Too often, churches fall into the habit of “the youth have always done this” rather than hearing what ministry the youth feel called to create or lead.
  • As churches and ministries emerge from years of lockdowns and limited in-person interaction, we need to continue to evaluate our communities and members' needs, not simply re-creating what existed before the pandemic. We long for what is familiar, but that is not necessarily what will bring people to the Gospel.

Participants left inspired. “The possibilities for new ministries are all around us. This will be the challenge of the next few years: allowing fruitful ideas to grow while pruning away ministries and activities whose time has passed,” said Pastor Dayne. 

Vetter said, “Kenda spoke about innovation and creativity in ministry not just TO the youth but WITH the youth, empowering and equipping them to serve out of their gifts and interests. I came away encouraged and challenged to try some new things.”


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