Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Just for Fun...and a question, while I am at it.

This is a video I made for the youth group I run at my protestant parish. We usually meet once a month and we play group games, have a time of prayer and a devotion from the Bible....and we have, from time to time, thrown the occasional pie in the face of a willing and eager kid. So this girl Shellie had been begging me for weeks to throw a pie in her face so I promised that at the next meeting everyone would see her get a pie in her face but as you can see from the video it didn't happen exactly like she thought it would. (I kept my promise~ everyone at the youth group saw Shellie get hit with a pie but it was on this video instead of "Live"). The look of surprise on Shellie's face is priceless because she NEVER expected her mom to throw the pie in her face...anyway, watch the video, it's cute.

Now something I have been wondering. Protestants, especially Evangelicals, are very good at having different ministries for specific groups. I, myself, am involved in Children's minsitries and a lot of resources are given towards that in order to provide an atmosphere where kids want to come to church, providing them with spiritual input and fun. My own parish does this well. We have a fantastic Bible Quizzing program where kids compete and learn a book of the Bible. We have a Christian Scouting program that teaches life skills and, again, spiritual things.
We have Children's Church, which takes place during the regular Worship time but, I confess, I dislike the idea of kids leaving the service to "do their own thing". I would rather have the kids participate with the whole church instead of segregating them.

This idea of targeting and giving special attention to the youth of our congregation comes from a very real desire to keep our children interested in church and making it a place kids want to come to. It seems to work. On the whole, the kids of our congregation are not "being dragged to church" but are eager to attend. In fact, I have heard stories of children waking up their parents so they wouldn't be late for Sunday Morning Worship. Our parish seems to be able to put "fun" into church without, I believe, sacrificing any spiritual formation. Evangelicals, from what I can see, have been willing to adopt from pop culture, all in an effort to keep kids interested.

I have an annual event which is very much adopted from pop culture. It is Messy Game Night
which borrows from games and antics on the Nickelodeon television channel. Yes, there is slime, Yes, it makes a big mess and, yes, the kids absolutely love it.

These are pictures of a kid getting slimed at Messy Game Night, used with the permission of Jonathan Fonner (The Photographer) and Sean's mother, (The kid getting slimed)

And, at the event, we do have a "messy devotion"; that is, we use an object lesson to teach a spiritual point. Granted, the kids are more distracted at this event and don't give full attention to the spiritual input as they do at other events but it is still there (as it is in every event we do for the children).

Now all the while I was running Messy Game Night this past summer I was thinking, "I can't imagine something like this happening at the Orthodox Parish I attend Vespers at." It just seems like a very un-Orthodox thing to do -I mean, do Orthodox let their kids have Chocolate syrup fights:) - Keep in mind I really am not involved in the life of the Parish at the Orthodox Church except by attending Vespers on a Saturday night. I don't know how they do Sunday School for the kids. I don't know how they do adult education for us older people, I don't know what they do for teens. I don't even know how they drink coffee at coffee hour because I have never been there. So all I am doing is guessing.

My question is this: Would the Orthodox Church see any value in having events like this? Or is it seen as too extreme? Messy Game Night is the most popular event I run all year and even kids who don't like getting messy like to attend just so they can watch the others. But, would that justify it in the mind of the Orthodox Church? Or would such a thing vary from parish to parish?

The reason I ask is I believe paying special attention to the youth and kids in parish life is essential to the vitality of the church. Maybe, the Orthodox agree with that statement but would see other ways to accomplish that. I do get the sense that events like Messy Game Night would be seen as wasteful and too extreme in Orthodox eyes who, are after all, very conservative. I too, believe it or not, am conservative but I like to do creative things that is outside of the norm. I think by doing that, you really get a person's attention. And when you get there attention, you hit with the Gospel.

So I would love all those who are in Orthodoxy to comment on this. Please enlighten me! What "out of the box" thinking do the Orthodox do to get the attention of their youth?


  1. It probably depends on the parish, Jim. We have a "Fall Festival" every year with face painting and some or another special event (this year it was a petting zoo). We have lock ins and other types of activities just for the youth and teens. I don't know that we would have a messy game night, but I don't think we're either theologically or philosophically opposed to it, either. I wouldn't want my kids participating in that only because I don't want to have to clean them up.

    The problem with borrowing from pop culture is not as it pertains to the kids in Church having fun outside the Divine Liturgy. It is in altering the services of the Church, or the architecture, or the practice, or our doctrine, in order to accommodate pop culture. That is, I think, where we draw the line. Orthodox listen to regular music, watch regular TV shows, see regular movies, etc. As you know, we're not just cultural freaks (though that is a real danger for converts -- not to become exactly that in a zeal to be "real" Orthodox).

  2. David,
    I agree with you that a line should not be crossed, especially when it comes to Liturgy or tying to make "Seeker friendly worship services."

    The reason I bring up the question is, I get the feeling that Orthodox Christians live almost schizophrenic lives. They have a way of talking they put on for church and then have a different language altogether when they are outside of church and I fear that because of the "language barrier" it would be hard to communicate the truths of Orthodoxy to an uneducated world.

    By using elements of pop culture that is either sinless or neutral, not in the context of Liturgy but just in having programs that people/kids would want to come to, it would "draw" people in.

    I realize I am speaking from a perspective of profound ignorance. As I have stated before, I only go to Vespers on Saturday nights (and that only 41 times in the last 18 months) so I don't really know the Orthodox Church. Forgive me if I seem judgmental. I don't mean to be.

    I like the idea of a Fall Festival. Did lots of outsiders come?

    Thanks for taking the time to answer.

  3. Jim, it's a good question. I believe that the Orthodox Church has always had a great variety and depth in their worship - something lost in the West. For example, in Orthodox countries it is normal to hear bells during the "hours" of prayer - 3rd hour, 6th hour, Vespers etc. - daily and go to the services. Most of the formation and participation of youth takes place within that variety and parish schools as well as the Sunday schools. It is an ingrained part of their lives. In place like America, Orthodoxy does not have as many services (unless you live near a monastery) and does not have the resources to fund all the same programs as they do in the old countries. So here we are kind of forced to adapt the culture we are living in and borrow from the Western Christian expressions. In our parish, we also have a fall festival with those activities, Sunday school and the summer Church school. Our diocese also has summer camp programs for kids with a lot of the things you mention. (look here http://www.acrod.org/multimedia/photos?collection_id=35102136-72157627855435113) It's not that the Orthodox are opposed to it, but it seems to me a matter of the lack of resources. We don't have a youth group because there is no one to run it, although many other parishes do. Soyo has a great program with full-time staff dedicated to it. Here is an example of their ideas http://www.antiochian.org/festivals/cf. The Greeks have something similar: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/youth. The ACROD's teen site: http://www.acrod.org/ministries/youth/arena

    You say the Orthodox live schizophrenic lives - I suppose some do, but it's not supposed to be like that. Orthodoxy is a way of life, and I don't mean the outward expressions of it like baklava or vestments, but the beauty, the prayerfullness, the presence of God, the communion of saints, and the righteousness. "Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity." (1 Timothy 4:12)

    Perhaps you are asking because you may be called to the Orthodox youth ministry?

  4. Just wanted to clarify. There is a tremendous need to involve the youth in the faith. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

  5. In the United States, it seems to me that parishes that contain many converts from Protestantism tend to have better extra-liturgical parish life than those parishes which are more cradle (with the exception of the annual ethnic festival) or those with many Catholic converts. It is a sad irony that for all our paper theology about an incarnate, visible Church, we do not actually live out this ecclesiastical incarnation very well. Very often, we go to church for the services, not for the fellowship. On the one hand, this is the way it should be. The services are important in themselves, and it is the worship that makes us part of the universal Church. Certainly, to orient the activities of the nave towards fellowship would transform the Church into a social club of persons who happen to share a common philosophical outlook on the divine. On the other hand it is easy to fall into a routine wherein attending the services becomes our religious "fix" and we forget that simply being in the presence of other Orthodox Christian at the services is not really the same thing as being Christians with and to each other.

    As far as transmitting the faith to the next generation, I think that regular attendance at All-night Vigil does a pretty good job of teaching the faith because our hymns are rather didactic. Somebody who attends All-night Vigil for Sundays and Great Feasts and listens attentively will probably be quite informed about what we believe after about three years. What would be really swell would be for a group to get together before the service to read the text of the propers and discuss them before going into the church and praying them.

  6. David,
    by the way, I always tell the kids to wear old clothes and we end the night with a big water fight so, believe it or not, the kids don't need much clean up! :)

  7. Maria,
    Those are great links. I truly have revealed my ignorance by ranting as I did. It seems that Orthodox have struggles and successes with the youth, just like evangelicals!

    As far as being "called" to youth work, when I do end up being Christmated, I cannot see myself being idle but would use the talents God gave me for His Church and, since I never really grew up, I see myself working with the kids :)

    Working with kids is easier for me than with teens. Kids are so easy to make happy, in terms of playing the simplest of games. They love it!

    God bless people who work with teens....that is tough!

  8. Han,
    One of the strengths of the protestants is their understanding that "fellowship" is important. And building social relationships in a Faith community, helps a person want to remain with them.