Connect 2015 shares spiritual direction

The weather may have refused to cooperate but torrential rain and freezing temperatures weren’t enough to deter 200 youth workers who came together in July at Ngaruawahia for Connect 2015

Presbyterian Youth Ministry National Director Matt Chamberlin, who directed the 13th annual event, says it rained so heavily during the weekend that attendees had to be driven to various venues at the Ngaruawahia campsite.

“Fortunately, there was so much good stuff going on inside we didn’t have time to worry about the weather too much,” laughs Matt.

That “good stuff” included a programme packed with speakers, workshops and plenty of opportunities for networking.

More than 43 churches attended the two-day programme which was themed around the concept of 3D.

“It was about emphasising another dimension to youth ministry, about equipping people to do their ministry well,” says Matt. “In a busy ministry it can be hard to care for other people unless you’re in a good place yourself because you can’t give what you don’t already have.

“Connect 2015 was about helping our youth workers to create healthy youth ministries, to focus on holistic self-care by first having a healthy relationship with God.”

Keynote speaker Bill Maston of Nexus International asked attendees to think of the Christian life as a tree, with the roots representing the relationship with Christ, the trunk representing the relationship with other believers and the branches representing the resulting character and ministry.

“If a tree’s roots aren’t strong, it will wither and die or fall over in the wind. Connect 2015 was about helping youth workers nurture the roots of their relationship with Christ and therefore their ministry,” says Matt.

A key component of this, and new to the annual event, was the use of 25 spiritual directors who came from across the North Island, donating their time to conduct a series of half-hour, one-on-one sessions with youth workers.

Matt says he was pleased that so many spiritual directors heeded the call to help youth workers reflect on where they are going spiritually.

Feedback from the attendees was overwhelmingly positive and included the following comments:

“I was very grateful for the sessions as I’m a youth worker and hear others’ experiences a lot, but less frequently can I talk in depth about my own in a private space.”

“It helped me know I am unique. It was helpful to think through destructive and constructive aspects of my faith/journey.”

“It was wonderful to be listened to and directed to what the Lord desires for me and helpful to reflect where God’s presence is in the everyday.”

One of the spiritual directors was Dr David Crawley, senior lecturer at Laidlaw College. Alongside others, David spoke at the keynote session on Saturday morning and joined his colleagues in leading the one-on-one sessions.

“Youth ministries can be busy and challenging and the Church recognised that it would be helpful for those involved to have someone outside of their context to talk to – someone with wisdom and experience, who could help them recalibrate their lives in the midst of their ministries,” says David.

For his keynote speech, David chose to focus on the importance of spiritual direction, and how it can be helpful to someone in ministry.

“I spoke for 15 minutes, using the analogy of the Paris Opera House to expand on how ministries are essentially a performance,” explains David.

“People are watching you and you’re putting your best self forward. But behind the scenes, there’s a huge part that audiences don’t see. It can be very chaotic backstage, with lots of stress and tension. And so it’s the same for us – behind the scenes, we might have a lot of worries and anxieties and maybe a sense of inadequacy for the role. If the front and backstage are out of synch, then we can have problems. One important aspect of this is paying attention to our spiritual well-being, and that’s where spiritual direction can be helpful.”

The keynote session also included two of the spiritual directors interviewing each other about their experience of giving and receiving spiritual development, as well as a 10 minute role play by another two spiritual directors, so the audience could witness a session in progress.

David says he was pleased to have been part of Connect 2015 and congratulated the organisers on the event.

“It was no small feat to coordinate 25 spiritual directors from across the Auckland and Waikato regions and get them down to Ngaruawahia for the day. Thanks especially to Jeannie Martin-Blaker, one of the spiritual directors who did just that.”

Connect 2015 kicked off at 4pm on the Friday with regional networking, designed to get people from nearby areas together.

“In a sea of 200 or so people, it was nice to feel some connection with people who come from the same area, or nearly the same area, as you,” says Matt.

Friday and Saturday night’s keynote speaker was American Bill Maston, whose organisation Nexus International is involved with training more than 1000 youth leaders from 53 nations each year. Bill spoke about “Multiplication vs Addition”, the concept that the most strategic way to grow our ministries and God’s kingdom is by investing very heavily in a few people and developing them so that in time they will be able to develop others.

Following Saturday afternoon’s spiritual development sessions, a much-loved feature from last year’s Connect made an appearance – Connect’s Got Talent.

Although it was much less formal this year, says Matt.

“It wasn’t really about winners and losers, but more about youth workers blessing us with their skills. This year we had singing, dancing and the spoken word and it was a lot of fun.”

On Sunday, the Connect keynote speaker was Mareta Ford, a senior community adviser for youth at the Hamilton City Council. Having been involved in numerous youth initiatives, including establishing community leadership programmes throughout Hamilton, Mareta was well placed to speak about how a church can be a blessing to its surrounding community. Mareta also had the audience rolling in the isles with laughter and, says Matt, should seriously consider becoming a stand up comedian!

Matt admits managing his first Connect event was a challenge, but he’s pleased with how it went. “I’m thankful to Gordon Fitch, PYM’s national manager, for his support and guidance; to the Waikato-based hospitality team who worked so hard over the weekend to look after us; and to the Connect working group who helped us to plan and implement a great event. I’m also pleased we focused on the basics of youth ministry and on the holistic aspects of looking after our souls as the most vital part of our ministries. Everything else flows from that.”

Sharon Stephenson SPANZ