Youth Ministry Across Difference

I’d like to take a break from our “regularly scheduled programming” to share my excitement about a new book on youth ministry. Nurturing Different Dreams: Youth Ministry across Lines of Difference by Katherine Turpin and Anne Carter Walker explores the ways in which race, class, gender and other identities impact ministry with youth and young adults within the larger framework of privilege and oppression. While in seminary, I participated in a Lilly-funded program called FaithTrek, a theological and vocational discernment program for high school youth. This program, and the experiences many of us adult leaders witnessed and shared, served as the foundation for the book. Using case narratives from several leaders (I provided one in Chapter 4), along with their own narratives, Turpin and Walker describe “the insights and challenges we faced in our particular context in building and enacting education with marginalized young people that is empowering, transformative, and liberating.” In this short, yet highly practical text, they also “offer concrete guidelines and practices that challenge those who work with youth in religious and secular settings not to succumb to guilt-based inaction, but rather to take up the practice of working with adolescents across lines of difference” (p. 3).

In many ways, this is a helpful book for anyone in congregational, educational, and other non-profit settings who work across differences regardless of age or life stage. The perspectives and insights around practices such as vocational discernment, negotiating respect, and mentoring can assist individuals with turpinbookcoverprivileged identities (white, middle class, heterosexual, educated, etc.) to understand and practice a more fully inclusive, radically engaged ministry with and among people who are marginalized.

As a minister-researcher, what I love most about this book is its direct use of narratives from those involved in the program. In the sociological research world, we may call this the methodological use of narrative inquiry or analysis; and in the theological or political world, we may call this a (broad) application of critical race theory, which emphasizes storytelling / counterstorytelling and naming one’s own reality to illuminate and explore experiences of racial oppression. FaithTrek created the space in which youth were able to share their experiences, their dreams, their stories; and it also generated myriad praxis moments for its leaders.

I happen to really like the authors of this book and to have had a very small part in the process of its creation; but don’t let that stop you from checking out Nurturing Different Dreams. For ministry in this time and place — with Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland, and now Chapel Hill, North Carolina — the experiences, insights and practices shared in this work are needed more than ever.

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

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