By Okey Ifionu
In his best-selling book, Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry, Doug Fields, a respected American youth pastor and author, said that although youth activities are not altogether a bad idea, they must have a clear purpose, and not become a mere jamboree. In his words, “I don’t want to organise more activities, I want to impact more lives. As a youth-friendly priest myself, I can’t agree more with Pastor Fields. In an age when clergymen are often sapped by all sorts of pressures, including those arising from church activities, care must be taken to ensure that every church activity is worth the time, energy and other resources invested in it. Indeed no activity should be embarked on unless its primary purpose is to build up the body of Christ, especially the youth, in a verifiable or measurable way. Youth jamborees that do not root them properly in Christ Jesus are counterproductive! Every priest or church leader does not have exactly the same experience when it comes to managing the youth. In some places the youth ill-advisedly want total freedom in drawing up their programme —no guardrails, no pastoral input. They insist on being left to run their own show as they please. Any attempt to mainstream them is viewed as patronising or undue paternalism.
In the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), the youth are rightly considered as a vital segment of the church, indeed the present and future strength of the church. If that sounds exaggerated, it is perhaps because the youth are the ones who are expected to hold the banner of Christ aloft. They have a lot of energy and sometimes also, the intellectual acumen. Unfortunately the devil knows this and so carefully targets them for destruction. Therefore whatever investment that needs to be made towards mentoring and grooming the youth so that they can effectively navigate the many challenges that face them, is well worth it. It is no surprise therefore that after focusing on children and baptism in its Synod last year, the Anglican Diocese of Lagos Mainland this year zeroed in on the the Youth. For four good days, the Diocesan Synod led by the Rt. Rev. Akinpelu Johnson deliberated on the theme: “Confirmation, Our Youth and the Eucharist— Sustenance for the Journey Ahead.” Ordinarily, managing the parish youth is a full plate for an average priest. Their idiosyncrasies, passions and sensitivities can be quite overwhelming. But the fault has not always been theirs. Church leaders rarely admit this but quite a few sincere ones accept that more discipling needs to be done for the youth, especially as it affects their role in the affairs of the parish. One particularly thorny area is getting the youth to embrace every aspect of the church’s traditions and practices.
Notable among these practices is the Eucharist, popularly referred to as Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. Many parish priests complain that organising meetings to teach the youth is not a walk in the park. Many an elaborate and expensive youth programme has often turned out to be a waste of resources as a lot of them did not make themselves available. Yet, there should be no giving up. Persistence in doing what is right often pays in the end. At least so thinks Bishop Johnson. And so as a sequel to last year’s synod theme of Baptism and Sunday School, he chose this time to focus on the Youth and the Eucharist which is a cardinal church sacrament. Over the years experience has shown that many young people aged 13 to 40 years— teenage to middle age– don’t have a firm grasp of the Eucharist and its significance. And consequently they treat it with a certain degree of levity if not irreverence. It is apparently his desire to redress this that influenced Bishop Johnson’s choice of theme. The linkage is logical. A child who is baptised grows up to be confirmed into full membership of the church whereupon he renews his baptismal vows, especially the pledge to remain “Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.” From the opening to the closing sermons, and other deliberations at the Synod, emphasis was on getting our youth to recognise the importance of the Eucharist which is a thanksgiving service in appreciation of what our Saviour, Jesus Christ did for us at Calvary, and which He commanded the church to observe as often as possible. This is a Biblical truth that many young people don’t seem to realise even after their confirmation as full-fledged communicants. The Eucharist involves the receiving by faith of consecrated wafer and wine which symbolise the body and and blood of Jesus Christ. Despite the potency of this sacrament when taken with faith, many youths do not seem to esteem it as highly as they ought to. However, much of this indifference appears to stem from ignorance which in turn results from their poor discipling by church leaders. To combat this blight in his diocese, Bishop Johnson ensured that a reasonable percentage of delegates to this year’s synod were youths. In his presidential address, he paid great attention to the subject of helping the youth to understand the importance of the Eucharist, why and how they should participate in it. As a significant rite of passage in the church the Eucharist is as important as Baptism. And together with another rite of passage namely death and burial, the three form the core passage rites of the church. In the Anglican Communion, a precondition for partaking in the Eucharist is the confirmation rite at which candidates make vows of commitment to Christ before a bishop who then lays his hand on them, declaring them confirmed and eligible for Holy Communion.
Bishop Johnson charged church leaders to put greater premium on the teaching of the youth all that pertains to salvation and Christian living. Confirmation candidates, he said, must be both spiritually and doctrinally well prepared so that they can understand the significance of that sacrament and embrace it enthusiastically. The seeming indifference of the youth to the Eucharist might well be the consequence of inadequate
discipling. This could therefore be tackled by ensuring that prospective confirmees are well groomed. The theme was so effectively mined by the various speakers at the Synod that the youth present, and the clergy too, went home with much that could enhance the diocese’s youth ministry. To the youth the challenge is to frequently make themselves available at the Holy Communion service. The body and blood of Jesus they receive should constantly provide them with spiritual sustenance for the many challenges and trials of life. Jesus is the real bread from heaven. To eat him is to live and be an effective Christian. I have no doubt that as many youths as would embrace the Eucharist with faith will definitely experience a turning point in their walk with God. Bishop Johnson expects them to grab the opportunity with both hands.
.Venerable Ifionu, a former deputy managing director of THISDAY Newspapers, is a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Lagos Mainland