Youth ministry begins with the family in the home. It continues in the Church as we strive to provide for the spritual needs of the children of our parish. The foundation of all youth ministry is the cultivation and education of our children, so that they may become active members of the Body of Christ.
In the Saint Barbara Parish our youth ministry has many components beginning with the P.A.T.C.H.E.S., J.O.Y. and G.O.Y.A. groups.
“Parenting And Teaching Children Hope Empathy and Spirituality.” This wonderful group provides an opportunity for parents to gather together with their pre-school age children and infants in a safe and friendly environment while enjoying the surroundings of shared Orthodox values in the context of the group. Events are planned throughout the year and are posted on the Church Website and Sunday bulletins.
JOY (Junior Orthodox Youth) Ministry strives to provide a vehicle in which children, ages 5-12, can further develop their faith in God and friendships with each other. Parental support and involvement are a vital part of this ministry as the JOY child is still open to having parents come and take part in activities. This fact presents us with a great opportunity to take a family approach to this ministry. Parents are invited and highly encouraged to attend all of the JOY activities throughout the year. This will help lay the foundation for your partnership in the spiritual education of your children. Some of the activities include: ice skating, roller skating, hayride, JOY Night at the Movies, duck pin bowling, Critter Caravan, Bridgeport Bluefish games and much more.
The JOY Participant
A child’s world is changing rapidly - it is virtually impossible to keep up with every new trend and movement of their culture. Growing up in today’s society is a much more difficult task than it was in previous times. Our children are constantly being exposed to negative and destructive influences. If these influences are not challenged, they can, and will, define who our children will become.
Innocence is slipping away at an alarmingly early age. For these reasons, the positive teachings and traditions of the Orthodox Church must become a living presence in the lives of our children. This makes ministry to our children not an option, but rather a necessity.
But what is ministry? The word minister means to give aid to those in need. Therefore, a ministry of the Orthodox Church gives aid as part of the Body of Christ. A child becomes a full member of this Body at their baptism. The foundation of all youth ministry is the cultivation and education of our children, so that they may become active members of the Body of Christ. JOY Ministry is but one means to this end; it must not stand alone, but rather be incorporated into the entire life of the Church and its mission.
Youth ministry needs to begin early, even before the child begins to participate in JOY Ministry. It begins with the family in the home, and it needs to continue in the home as the child grows in the Church. As youth workers, it is important to keep in mind that the single greatest influence on how a child develops a “sense of self” is their parents. Therefore, it is critical that JOY Group minister to both children and their parents. We consider this ministry a supplement to this vital “home ministry.”
The mission of GOYA Ministry is to strengthen the relationship of young teenage Orthodox Christians with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The program works to educate and edify young members of the Church, encouraging them to become active sacramental participants in the life of the Body of Christ. This ministry offers them the opportunity to experience the Faith, ultimately leading them to Salvation.
Belonging to GOYA Ministry depends solely on being an Orthodox Christian. The teenagers are not classified as members or non-members; if they are members of the Faith, they belong! That is, they are participants rather than members.
GOYA ministers to teenagers of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in junior high or high school (12 year olds – 18 year olds). It is the continuing ministry of our younger parishioners that began in Sunday School, Summer Camp, PATCHES and JOY. As Christians, it is significant to keep in mind that the single greatest influence on how young people develop a “sense of self” is their parents. We should consider GOYA as a supplement to this vital “home ministry.”
The GOYA Teenager
Adolescence is an exciting time for young people, but also a difficult period in their lives. Adolescents have many forces pulling them in different directions. They are developing at a rapid pace; physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. They are making life-long decisions about who they are and what they will become.
The major developmental task of a teenager is to achieve or form a sense of identity. Forming a sense of identity helps one understand “who they are” in relationship to others as well as the world (and for Christians, it helps us to understand “who we are” in relationship to God). It has been said that adolescence is a time of exploration, after which young people emerge with a commitment to certain values, goals, behaviors and beliefs. If the church is missing from this process, there is a serious gap in the development of the young person.
The Junior High School Teenager
Not quite a teenager but definitely not a child, junior high teenagers struggle with where they belong. They still fit into their elementary school shoes in many ways, but are already faced with many issues that older teenagers face (sex, drugs, violence, etc.). This conflict, along with the physical changes, can make junior high school a difficult two or three years. Physically, their bodies are changing, but not necessarily all at once. Puberty hits, creating hormonal issues that can leave a young teenager feeling as if they will never have control of their body again.
Even late bloomers are not spared from the difficulties of the junior high years, as they often anguish over their lack of physical development. They wonder what is wrong with them and feel trapped in a child’s body. As adults, we know that this phase passes. However, it does not feel this way to a young person. As parents, we must be sensitive of these changes and validate their feelings about themselves.
In addition to physical changes, young people in this period are able to think more abstractly. They can consider a hypothetical situation and evaluate several courses of action for it. They no longer need concrete examples to develop a concept. As they are just entering this period of abstract thought development, some will not be as advanced with this type of thinking as others. At both the meetings and various yearly retreats – GOYAns will examine Biblical concepts that will assist them as they continue to mature in faith.
The High School Teenager
High School teenagers are also experiencing great developmental growth, but this is controlled mostly by social and cognitive development, rather than physical changes. They are bombarded with activities (work, school, sports, clubs, and church) each pulling them in different directions. There is an overwhelming feeling that these activities are needed, and without them, their future choices (college, career, marriage, etc.) will be limited. They are keenly aware of their approaching adulthood and think often about what the future will hold for them.
With a greater developed ability to think abstractly, they are being challenged by teachers, peers, and parents to figure out where they stand on issues. Concepts of justice, equality, power, and control fascinate them, along with controversial topics that can be examined through these lenses. They have real questions and they want real answers. “Because the Bible says” is no longer an acceptable answer. If we, as youth workers, and parents, are not leading and inspiring them to find these answers in the church, they will find these answers elsewhere.
The Four Circles of Ministry
GOYA Ministry strives to integrate the following elements into all aspects of our programming: worship, fellowship, service, and witness. We strive to provide an exceptional program for our teens that views these elements not only as four separate entities, but as four interlocking circles that overlap and build on each other. A Healthy GOYA Ministry keeps these aspects in balance.
1. Worship (Liturgia)
“O come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” Psalm 95:6-7
As Orthodox Christians, we believe that God reveals Himself through Holy Tradition and Scripture. Worship is the living expression of these, and is therefore a very important element in ministering to young people. It is necessary for them to be active participants in the liturgical life of the church.
GOYA teenagers experience worship by: Actively participating in private and corporate prayer; participating in the Divine Services and Sacraments of the Church (not only Liturgy, but the entire cycle of worship); becoming familiar with different services of the Church and their role in the service (Paraklesis, Vespers, Compline, etc.); praying for those who are sick or in need; becoming familiar with prayers for morning, evening and different occasions especially the book of Psalms; observing the Church calendar and prescribed Feasts and Fasts. Learning the hymns of the Church and using them in prayer; offering readings, chanting or participating in the choir; serving as an Acolyte (Altar Boy); reading the Bible and other religious writings.
2. Fellowship (Koinonia)
“Behold how good and pleasing it is when brothers dwell in unity.” Psalm 133:1
Fellowship is the way Orthodox Christians integrate their faith with daily life. It is sacred when Orthodox Christians gather together in the Lord’s name. The relationship of the Holy Trinity is the perfect model of Fellowship—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share perfect communion and exist in perfect love with each other. By gathering together in fellowship and experiencing this love, we emulate the relationship of the Trinity and develop our life in Christ.
GOYA teenagers experience fellowship by: participating in Church sponsored camps and retreat programs; participating in Church sponsored athletic programs, Greek dancing, etc.; participating in Inter-Orthodox activities; watching films, videos, and multimedia presentations that can spark discussion; watching performances of religious productions, musicals, etc.; participating in day or overnight outings together; volunteering either at the parish or in the local community; participating in group activities on various topics, books, movies, music, etc.; and attending church, GOYA Ministry gatherings, and other church related activities.
3. Service (Diakonia)
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve ...” Mark 10:45
Christ came to serve, not to be served. Young people are urged to do the same. They can honor and glorify God by loving and serving humanity in His name. Young people can use their God-given gifts to serve. For Orthodox Christians, service to God and community is a way of life; the way of living one’s Faith. As Jesus Christ said, “Let your light so shine for men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Service is an integral part of the Orthodox Christian’s life.
Too often, we look at our young people and wonder how we can help them. We need to inspire them toward a life of service. How can our children use their God-given gifts for service to the needy and service to those less fortunate? How can they be the people of God who respond to His call in Matthew 25:31-46, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison? Responding to these human needs is the true meaning of service.
GOYA teenagers experience service by: offering their personal stewardship—giving of time, talent, and treasure—to both the church and local community charities; participating in work projects to beautify and maintain the parish or local community; outreaching to the elderly, the sick, the shut-ins, etc.; supporting and participating in missions abroad and at home; supporting Archdiocesan, Metropolitan, and Parish ministries such as Saint Basil Academy, Philoptochos, Hellenic College/Holy Cross, St. Michael’s Home, etc.; supporting Inter-Orthodox organizations endorsed by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central
America: International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF), Eastern Orthodox Committee on Scouting (EOCS), Orthodox Christian Networks (OCN), Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM), Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology, and Religion (OCAMPR); volunteering for a local soup kitchen or other community charities; and working with younger ministry groups in the parish or children in the local community.
4. Witness (Martyria)
“For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.”Acts 22:15
Man is both a spiritual and physical being. Unfortunately this spiritual reality is not always expressed in the material world. In order to be true to oneself and to the Orthodox Christian Faith, young people should strive to exemplify the teachings of the Church. We are witnessing our faith when we are living as Christ taught us to live, letting Christ shine in all that we do to those around us. This is the true meaning of witness.
GOYA teenagers experience witness by: Learning about Christ’s teachings and living them. Learning about the Saints’ great witness to the faith and imitating their example. Finding answers to questions they, or others, have about the faith. Making newcomers feel welcome. Inviting a non-Orthodox friend to a Church service or event. Making the sign of the Cross before every meal - no matter where they are. Supporting and participating in mission work abroad and locally. Teaching children younger than them about the faith. Maintaining Christian integrity in all areas of their lives. Letting Christ’s love shine in all they do.
Saint Barbara GOYA Mentor Program
In 2011, the Saint Barbara GOYA established a Mentor Program as a form of outreach to provide guidance and support to new GOYA members.
GOYA mentors are asked to communicate frequently with the person they are mentoring to encourage participation and a sense of belonging, answer questions, provide an orientation regarding activities and make introductions where appropriate.
All older GOYAns willing to serve as mentor are asked to speak to Michele Papadimitriou, Evans Mountzouris or Father Peter and sign-up. (Younger GOYAns may request to be specifically paired with a mentor.)
Mentors will be provided with information regarding how to contact the individuals that they will be assisting after the first GOYA meeting in September.
A Final Note On GOYA
The Saint Barbara GOYAns meet each month and participate in many diverse activities at the Saint Barbara parish and with other local communities, including dances, retreats and outreach activities. Our GOYA sponsors an annual Day at Holiday Hill for the surrounding Orthodox communities, participates in a parish run Fall Retreat Weekend at Camp Jewell, cooks and serves meals at the Community Dining Room in Branford, goes Christmas Caroling at various homes and senior living facilities and much more.
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