It is that time of year again. The time where I assess what I got out of my favorite training event for youthworkers. PSYM has been around for 26 years. One of the founders, my friend Rev. Walt Marcum still teaches. I wasn’t there at the start but I got there as soon as I could. So after 23 years, I am asking myself: “What good does this do for you, Charles?”
Like most people at PSYM I started as a student. I remember going home with a thick folder full of information and handouts plus whatever notes I took off the teacher’s overhead projector sheets. That folder would sit on top of my file cabinet in my office for a good 3-4 months taunting me to use something out of it. Then about the time I would have a group of parents lighting torches and grabbing pitch forks, I would pull just the right life vest (yes I am mixing metaphors here, I learned that at PSYM ’93) out of the folder and everybody would be so happy again.
At least, that is how I like to remember it.
I know I learned a lot of great stuff. I must have learned enough that they have invited me to be a teacher for the last 20 years. Would you believe they even let me teach the class of graduate students now? I’m just uthguychaz in red shoes. I don’t feel worthy but I am truly honored to work with some of the most gifted youthworkers in the country!
So what have I learned?
I know I would not have made it in Youth Ministry if Walt Marcum had not taken the time to be my friend. I also know that Kathleen, Fred, Sharon, and Cammy all made sure I knew enough to do good work and less damage. Dr. John Gooch taught me about Methodist everything and Dr. Mike Ratliff taught me about sex (almost everything). I learned from seminary professors and from practitioners – people who actually did youth ministry every day back home and they didn’t just write books about it. I’ve learned so much from all the great keynote speakers.
So what did I learn this year?
Mark Matlock has got it going on! That dude is a living breathing youthworker extraordinaire! When I grow up I want to be like him. He gets it. He gets how hard this is. And he has thought deeply about our craft. I hear hope in all of his words. We need more keynote speakers who exude hope! He makes me want to be the kind of youthworker that is hope-filled.
I learned from my students so very much as many of their contexts differ from mine. The dirty little secret of being a teacher is that teachers are gung-ho learners. So I learn way more from my students than they will ever know. I also learned that bingo could help you pay attention better in class.
I could get much more specific but that would not help.
This will help: I learned what I was taught back at the beginning.
Find good people doing incredible youth work. Become friends. Hang out. Care for one another. Learn from one another. Be there when one of you gets fired. (If you don’t know yet, all of us get a turn at some point if you last long enough.) Push each other to be accountable, to stay engaged, to stay in community. Don’t isolate into a monster-sized program at a mega church. Don’t hide out in a small town church. Stay connected. Have a mentor or two. Mentor someone new. Write curriculum and songs. Dance and recite poetry. Wear breakfast pants more often. Thank people like my friend Dara Bell in New Mexico for being there for all of us for so very long and making such a huge difference in our craft for so many. Laugh. Eat. Play ping-pong. Play word games. Enjoy a refreshing beverage together. But be with people that matter because people matter! If you will just do that, and do that well, all of that, then you just might have what it takes to walk alongside your youth at just the right pace when it really matters. And it will really matter this week, next week, and every week.
Isn’t that what you would hope to learn?
Peace and Grace,
Charles W. Harrison