For more than 30 years, the Parish Youth Ministries (PYM) Committee has been a leader in our Diocese for youth formation. The committee, established in 1983 by Bishop Susan Goff (then priest at St. Christopher’s, Springfield), began humbly but has evolved into a program that has transformed the lives of many youth and young adults.
Made up of high school youth (about 30) from around the Diocese, the committee members act as representatives of their parishes and lead all event programming. The 30 youth selected to serve are gifted young people with a true passion for the Church and are the engine on which the program runs.
Annually, the PYM Committee hosts three retreat weekends and two service days to which all diocesan middle and high school youth are invited to attend. On average, the program involves 700 youth and chaperones, representing parishes from all over the Diocese. PYM provides unique opportunities to give back to the local community, as well as fellowship and retreat time at Shrine Mont.
PYM is far more than bringing people from different churches together, although that in itself has much value to youth today. The real strength is the impact the program has on people’s lives and the staying power that it generates. Personally, PYM is what ultimately led me to work at Shrine Mont Camps, which in turn helped me land on the diocesan staff doing exactly the same things that meant so much to my formation growing up. Seems like a crazy story, right? Not as crazy as you’d think, and I’m certainly not alone. One of my PYM colleagues, the Rev. Beth Magill, has this to say about her experience on the committee:
“PYM laid the foundation for my theology of leadership. Though I couldn’t possibly have articulated this at the time, the safe space created by the adults helped me to begin to explore what it looked like to be a Christian leader. These adults allowed us to soar and fail with equal measure. Their gentle companionship at every turn opened my eyes to the experience of leading with, not just for, others. We felt in our bones the value of community. Everyone had a critical role to play. Our job as leaders was to notice and draw out that role in all whom we met.
Perhaps one of my greatest weaknesses has always been and will always be leading from behind. It is with surprising frequency that I remember the role of ‘Lost Sheep Navigator’ on our PYM retreats. Throughout the course of the weekend, that role was the assigned duty of at least two team members – to be on the lookout for those who seemed to be sitting on the margins of the group, and to simply be with them. We were not to force them to play games or sing songs, but simply get to know them as best we could.
Though I approached this role with the contempt that only a 16-year-old can muster, it is still one of my most profound learning experiences to this day. I always carry with me the reminder from those days on the Mountain and at Roslyn, to be on the lookout for those who may need an invitation. For this was among the greatest lessons PYM taught me: The leaders on the margins are to be no less valued and appreciated than those on the stage. We need each and every one of them to do this Kingdom work!
It is my sincere hope to model for those with whom I am privileged to work the transformative lessons I learned in PYM as a teenager.”
By: Mike Wade, Assistant to the Program Director and PYM staff liaison. PYM Alumnus 2002
Photos: Marley Moore, Sue Cromer, Ashley Cameron