We are beginning a new youth group in Cornwall! We are partnering with Cornwall United Methodist Church and St. John’s Episcopal Church in creating this new ministry. We are looking forward to being able to offer a more substantial ministry to our Middle School and High School youth. We are all healthy churches, but small enough that we are unable to form a critical mass for a substantial youth ministry on our own.
This kind of shared ministry would have been unusual not so long ago. It used to be that shared ministry in most towns consisted only of an ecumenical service for Thanksgiving. But now we are partnering for significant programs. A couple of years ago, we began Backpacks for Food (www.cornwallbff.com), a shared ministry of many churches, with involvement from civic organizations and individuals concerned with child hunger. Churches have partnered for mission projects before, but here is something different. We have intentionally kept church names off of BFF publicity because none of the churches wants this mission to be about generating church members, but rather, we simply want to follow the Gospel by feeding the hungry.
Sharing a youth group seems to be a deeper partnership because we are entrusting one another with what is most precious to us: our children.This is personal. We are trusting one another, not just to provide a safe and fun group for our children, but to guide our children in faith, to provide mentoring, and a place to discover God’s love more fully. This is a mission that is critically close to each of our hearts. I am deeply moved to find that we have such trust.
One positive ramification of our culture’s strong decline in church involvement, is that many of the walls that have historically divided us are coming down. There is a new ecumenical spirit among many neighboring churches. It used to be that churches endeavored to grow by competing for members. But church decline has helped many of us to shift our focus, away from a desire to be the biggest and best church in town, and toward a shared mission to reach the vast majority of people in our communities that have no religious affiliation at all. Membership decline is enabling partnerships. In this case, a partnership to create a stronger faith formation experience for our youth and to provide a youth group to our community that neither of us could have provided on our own. Perhaps our common sense of vulnerability and need has refocused us on the Gospel and brought the unity Jesus prayed for just a little bit closer.