What Can I Say to Young People?

What Can I Say to Young People?

Chris Duthie-Jung & Karl Dickson

Stacey Gasson talks to Chris Duthie-Jung (Catholic Wellington ArchDiocesan Youth Office), and Karl Dickson (Youth For Christ youth worker in Lower Hutt).On the agenda is how to respond to questions about contraception and other sexual choices.Stacy

Do you guys think there’s a place in youth ministry for addressing issues of teenage sexual health & practice?

Chris

Definitely. It’s real for them so we’ve got to look at it, but in a faith community context. The key thing is to get at the meaning behind sexual practice. There’s got to be more to it than a simple ‘safety’ talk.

Karl

The minute you mention the words ‘sexual’ and ‘health’, people think, “Oh no, it’s the condom debate!”. But it’s about the wider health of the young person, mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally.

Chris

It’s got to be ‘first things first’. Dealing with people’s real life situations is always the first step, we can’t just ignore their circumstances. If kids are sexually active and at risk then we’ve got to accept that that’s our starting point. But some time the challenge has to come ∆ the idea of greater meaning…

Karl

And the reality is that kids are confronted with sexual issues anyway at school or whatever. The discussion’s already been started…

Stacy

Okay, but naming it as a valid youth ministry issue has implications. Youth workers often seem to fall somewhere between the world of the adult and that of the young person.

What responsibilities does the youth worker carry as a result
∆ in relation to sexual issues?

Karl

I don’t know what it’s like working for a church, but in my work the point of contact is more of a social service setting. This can make it easier in that, while we’re committed to working with families, the young person often doesn’t want the family involved. So there’s not the same problem of dealing with parents’ expectations…

Chris

To me, it’s the youth workers on the ground who have the more difficult job. They’re dealing directly with kids’ lives. If they say the one thing they’re going to have ten parents on their case. But if they say the other, a kid could end up pregnant, sick or just simply guilt-stricken. It’s a minefield and yet we have responsibilities.

Karl

This whole thing is really an area that leadership teams need to work through, to be clear about what their line’s going to be.

Stacy

So is there a tension between Christian sexual philosophy and providing information about sexual practice?

Karl

For a start, what do we even mean by Christian sexual philosophy?

Chris

Christian churches tend to agree that the long-term committed relationship is where sex belongs, namely marriage. So sexually active young people immediately pose problems for us because they question this basic understanding…

Karl

But many young people don’t come from Christian families anyway. We can say, “the Bible says it’s wrong”, but being good post-moderns, they go, “well that’s fine for you, but that’s not my belief”. So how do I even begin to approach this when there’s that immediate difference between our values? I mean, I’m at the drop-in centre and I’ve got a scared young guy who’s been sexually active with a couple of young women and wants to get some contraception. Do I say, “Actually, what you’re doing is wrong”? Hopefully, our relationship may grow and I can start bringing that kind of thing in, but is it appropriate then?

Chris

And yet people do have a choice. Those in Christian ministry or youth work owe them the chance to recognise that. I believe we must name options, including not having sex. It’s probably all about timing but I find kids often want to be challenged ∆ fairly. Now or later, that’s the tricky decision…

Karl

We find that the young people we work with ∆ and they’re about as at-risk as you can get ∆ want to hear truth when they ask, “What is the right thing to do?” Do I say, “Practically, you’ve got to do this…” or should I almost let God do the talking? Rather than just debating contraception, we’ve got to remember we’re dealing with young people’s lives. Saturday night is an important part of growing up but it’s only a small part of their journey.

Chris

We’ve got to focus on the whole person; the fact that we’re protecting a young person’s life in total, not just one physical aspect. Hope is a big element in this thing – so often kids are lacking hope and they’re looking for a reason to believe there’s a future for them. And that hope message is absolutely central to Christianity.