I came back to Chicago this fall on a hunch, not knowing exactly what it was I would be doing but that whatever it was, this was the city to be doing it in. For those of you who have connected with me solely through watching social media feeds,you might have caught onto the fact that I have become involved, both as contributor and steering committee member to Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. And while that all is plenty fun, the “day job” I have found myself in is no less interesting.
Since September, I have been serving Ravenswood Covenant Church as their student ministries coordinator, aka “the youth guy.” It dawned on me the other day that, beyond conversations with close friends, I have not been doing much blog-sharing on this experience and that there is really no good reason for that. With that said, consider this the first of many reflexive-reflective posts during my time at Ravenswood Covenant, getting the curious up to speed on what exactly it is I am doing, the lessons I am learning, and perhaps how you can participate.
To start, however, I know no better way to get people up to speed than a set of frequently asked questions.
How did you hear about this gig?
Last spring, actually, when one of my college housemates had been offered the job but turned it down to more appropriately focus his energies on rebooting the North Side Youth Collision project, a high-energy monthly gathering of area youth groups (including Ravenswood). Somehow the Ravenswood position piqued my interest, but I quickly dismissed it as impractical.
Simultaneously, I was in the process of signing a lease with some friends for a place that was only walking distance away from the church. I sublet-ed my share of the rent out while I did a summer in Portland, but not before at least checking out this church. It was confirmation Sunday, and when I came back I told my new housemate [different guy then the one who had turned down the job] that I could conceivably see myself volunteering with their youth ministry.
So, during the summer, when that housemate saw a fresh job posting for the position placed online, he forwarded me a link. By that point, I had grown more interested in part-time work (“it opens one door without closing all others,” I thought) and sent in a resume.
What was on that resume?
Three years of summer camp and a mouthful-of-a-degree called “Conflict Transformation: Concentration in Religion Studies.” (To clarify, I had a double major; the other was Global Studies.)
Year-round youth work in an urban setting has been dramatically different from summer camp in the outdoors. And while most 23-year-olds in positions similar to mine have just finished a “youth ministry” degree or have an eye towards a seminary internship, my degree was in the abstract underpinnings of how religion interacts with society. None of the methods or know-how or other wisdom on how to do this the right way.
Whether from camp to the city, or from the theoretical to the technical, there have been times I have felt woefully under-qualified or at least mis-qualified. I am consistently having to remind myself while I have gone to the opposite end of the spectrum, it is still the same spectrum.
I am by nature very conservative in claiming something as God’s providence. There are things I simply do not want to pretend to know. But for whatever reason, I feel like I am in the right place at the right time, as much as it surprised me that I am now working directly in a church context.
What is the church like?
Ravenswood Covenant is a 125-year-old congregation, the outgrowth of a care facility for widows and orphans and immigrants in what was once a Scandinavian neighborhood. Instead of being a ritualized reenactment of the way church was done in the past, as older congregations are liable to do, it feels more like the rings of a tree that show every year of it’s history, as the church has soaked up the neighborhood like a sponge. There is Swedish deep in the archives and Spanglish scattered throughout the pews.
I really do like the church. It does church well. Besides having a rich and interesting history, Ravenswood Covenant comforts the needy and convicts the comfortable. God is glorified by our gatherings.
I am usually pretty busy on Sunday mornings, chasing down students and all, but if you ever want to come for a visit, just let me know.
What is the youth group like?
The first thing people notice is that it is majority female. I have had a couple guys show up to our youth programming, but never more than one at a time. For the sake of gender equality I would love to see this number be more like, say, 50/50 but in the meanwhile I thank my lucky stars for growing up with sisters and then mutter something about opposite ends of the same spectrum.
Most of the youth are also deeply Chicagoan. Furthermore, a number of the students, many of whom have come through neighborhood outreach programs, are first-generation church go-ers – they are not steeped in sheltered church culture. Through hearing the student’s stories each week, I feel like I have already gotten closer to the city than I did during four years of school.
How long will you be there?
Good question. It is a transition period for both me and the church. I still have some residual wanderlust that comes with being a global studies major, and we will see if that desire dies out or asks to be paid back with interest. Nonetheless, I am certainly closer to the beginning of my time with Ravenswood than to the end.
Look forward to more updates.