Youth can be a challenging demographic for faith communities. Attracting and maintaining a thriving youth ministry takes a lot of work and dedication and can all-too-easily end up with an ‘entertainment’ focus in order to keep youth engaged. The desire is always to see young people grow in their love for God in for caring for others, but this is no easy feat for kids just learning who they are and trying to figure out a world in which cyber-bullying, global catastrophes, and lack of strong moral examples are a realty.
Jeremy Sauvé is a long-standing youth pastor with St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Ottawa Ontario, where they have started evenings and events to connect youth on the autism spectrum with young people from the church youth group to build friendship and understanding. It’s an incredible example of expanding possibilities of what churches can do in welcoming people with disabilities – even those who may not have an interest in religion.
John Anderson is a Life Skills and Social Skills Coach in Ottawa who works closely with the Koinonia group (formerly Youth Action Social Group) to plan activities for their events. They also work closely with Kerrie Kirkwood, a behavioural therapist who helps the evenings to run smoothly. Back in March, John interviewed Jeremy about the Epicentre youth ministry, Koinonia, and some of the motivation behind these initiatives. The following comes from this interview, which I encourage you to check out in its entirety on John’s blog, Spectrum Insights.
John: Hi Jeremy, Tell us about Epicentre and how did you get involved?
Jeremy: Epicentre is the name of the youth ministry at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church. “…the goal of [our] student ministry is to glorify God by developing disciples who learn both to see the world as missionaries and live as missionaries – to live focused on the mission of God” (Reid 2013: 19). I was hired by St. Paul’s in 2007 to be the youth pastor. Prior to this I was the full-time chef of House of Menzies, a cafe in Aberfeldy, Scotland.
What inspired you to start The Youth Action Social Group?
Empathy. Recently I wrote a term paper for my Master’s program that explored the issue of bullying, specifically cyber-bullying, and what we, as the church, could do to help fight this ever growing problem. In my research I realized that one of the most powerful ways that we could be involved was teaching our students empathy. This is important because of what experts call the “bystander effect” where people see bullying taking place but choose either to join in or do nothing. Empathy empowers the bystander to take action and take a stand against bullying. Admittedly autistic young people, and others with disabilities, are “prime targets” for bullying. It is my hope and dream that by bringing the two groups together our kids will learn to see autism in a new light and have empathy for these kids struggling with enormous challenges. In this we, as a youth ministry, are living out the gospel of Jesus rather than just speaking about it.
The name has changed from Youth Action Social Group to Koinonia, What does Koinonia mean?
“Koinonia” is a Greek word found in the New Testament that means “community” or “partnership” and speaks of our desire to create a loving, accepting and safe community.
What led you to working with youth at St Paul’s?
Passion for a God that transformed my life and set me on a new path when I was 16 years old. Passion to have a positive affect in the lives of young people who face extraordinary challenges in our postmodern culture.
What can we expect from Koinonia in the future?
Continued dedication to creating a community where empathy and love are fostered. It is important to clarify that while our regular group (Epicentre) is spiritually driven Koinonia will never seek to push our beliefs onto the participants. We are not seeking to proselytize…we are simply seeking to live out what we feel God calling us to…to love God and love others; not in word only but also in deed. It is our hope that this program will have an even greater focus in our calendar next year with continued meals, activities and special events.