Impossible to Ignore

It is starting to feel an awful lot like summer already, the youth office is buzzing with discussions of graduations, mission trips, summer events- and even the weather is telling us summer is here. It was nearly a year ago I began this adventure with this youth ministry, my first official day on the job was the first day of Middle School Mission Blitz 2021. I jumped in, learned on the fly, had a great time, and immediately experienced how impactful youth ministry here could be. I now find myself in the midst of schedules and organizational contacts and making this year’s Mission Blitz happen. What a difference a year makes. It hasn’t just been an increase in job responsibilities, I feel like I have truly become part of this community of youth and staff that make this youth ministry the special place it is.

In recognizing that, I am beyond excited to move into a full-time role within youth ministries! This is a ministry that asks you to bring your whole self to everyone who is a part of it and that is something I see as a real blessing. Some days though, I felt held back in having to toe the line of being a part-time employee. This shift into the position of Youth Ministry Program Staff means I have more freedom to say yes to be who the youth and what this ministry calls me to be. To be at more school concerts and sporting events. To be more present in the exploration of faith that I see all of our youth experience. I am looking forward to all of that and more.

In the same moment, being part-time provided some space for me in that past year that I would not have been otherwise. Things like being able to say yes to a Clinical Pastoral Education(CPE) extended unit at Texas Health Fort Worth. From November until April, whenever I wasn’t here at the church, I was at Harris downtown as a chaplain- ministering to patients and staff. CPE in this context meant I was both doing chaplaincy at the hospital and spending time with a group of chaplains reflecting and processing our experiences in ways that helped us hone our pastoral care skills.

Adding this to my role in youth ministries made for some very busy months and working in the hospital setting during the omicron surge was one of the most intense and difficult chapters of my life. There were weeks that I was physically and mentally exhausted, but there were always moments in both of my ministry settings when I found profound peace and purpose. Whether it was being a comforting presence with a family who had just lost a loved one or talking through a hard week with a youth I was constantly reminded and reassured of the call to ministry that God has put on my heart.

When I would talk to people about doing hospital chaplaincy and youth ministry at the same time, they often would ask what it was like to be doing such disparate things. My answer was always that they are not as different as one might think. I find the work, especially the pastoral care aspect, to have a lot of similarities even when the job descriptions are quite varied. Whether I was someone in a hospital room or sitting with a youth in the Justin building, I was being blessed with the trust to walk with people on their faith journey. In those moments, both of them ask similar questions about God and they both need support in a world that often feels out of their control. They want to be heard, by someone who cares and by God. The more interactions I had, the more certain I became that these two ministries were more interconnected than I thought. While I have always been drawn to both youth ministry and chaplaincy, I would not have put those two aspects of ministry together in that way before doing them simultaneously. After experiencing that connection though, it now feels impossible for me to ignore.

Pastoral care has always been a key part of my call to ministry and getting to practice that side by side at the hospital and in youth ministry was special. It was an experience I will always carry with me wherever my life takes me. I will also carry that connection into this full-time role within youth ministries. This new role allows me to lean into that call with an incredible group of youth. Even in my relatively short time around them I know that they are unique. At this point I have pretty high expectations for them when it comes to making the youth ministries an inclusive and welcoming space, and they blow past that expectation seemingly every time. I can’t wait to see what excitement this summer and beyond has in store for them.

Evan Stanfill

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