Curiosity, Relationship-building, and Youth as Active Participants
In this conversation, Nicole Saint-Victor shares with Elizabeth Tamez Méndez her passion for nurturing relationships with youth and inviting them into intentional conversations and spaces even while sometimes disrupting established practices in order to provide multiple pathways for youth into Christian community, worship, and life together.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:00:16] Welcome to this session on Imagining Multiple Models of Ministry with Youth. This is a new series hosted by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. I am Dr. Elizabeth Tamez Méndez, founder and executive director of New Generation3 and longtime collaborator with the CICW. Today, Nicole Saint-Victor is joining us for conversation in this next video in the series. Nicole, thank you for being our guest. We're so happy to have you here.
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:00:49] I'm glad to be here. Thank you.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:00:51] It was great having a chance to have a previous conversation and learn more about your work. Thank you for making the time. I think this is going to be a very exciting opportunity for our listeners to learn about the many things you're doing. As you know, the CICW has been working on gathering insights around this theme of working with the new generations and how we can interact with them. And so we want to come together and learn about community worship practices in different contexts, especially those that encourage intergenerational worship spaces and relationships. And so in today’s conversation we want to focus on practices that include and empower youth. Nicole, will you please share with us a bit about your context and your work? I know you wear several hats. We're really eager to get to know more about it.
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:01:45] Thank you so much. Hello, everyone. My name is Nicole, again, and I currently serve at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, as an affiliate faculty member and the director of multicultural engagement. Externally, but of course connected to the institution, I serve as a diversity and inclusion commissioner through the CCCU. And recently I am a ’21–22 cohort member through Duke Divinity. While I have been a recipient of several awards, I believe that I remain teachable by working with my good friend Emily Bosscher to develop several educational practices around accessible leadership. We do that by way of Renovate. We call it RALD—Renovate Accessible Leadership Development—to help organizations develop transformational leaders by—keyword—disrupting their established patterns of behavior. I'm really glad to be with you guys today.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:03:01] Thank you so much, Nicole, and I know that you have also published a couple of books.
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:03:08] Yeah, so, not books yet, but I'm working on it, and I have been featured in Christian Scholars Review and done several blogs. The latest one is through Lake Institute with my good friend Melissa Spas Dukes.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:03:24] Thank you for sharing about that. I know that for those of us who are in these spaces and as leaders and as women, there's so many circles that we're constantly leading in and serving in. And so I'm very excited to hear about all your wisdom and the knowledge that you bring to the table with these experiences. And so it really helps us to get to know you better and to understand the spaces where you work and relate to youth.
Now, before we move forward, we want to let our viewers know that to frame our conversations in this series, we have chosen five values to shape this project on corporate worship models of ministry with youth. These values are: youth agency, spaces for theological questions, the role of the family, sparking intergenerational relationships, and designing multiple pathways for ministry with youth. So Nicole, how has your work at Trinity Christian College and in the church and community shaped the way that you interact with the intergenerational work and just anything related to models of ministry with youth?
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:04:35] Thank you for the question. It's a big one for me, particularly because when we think about who belongs in leadership—and when I say “we,” I'm thinking particularly in North America—the youth have in many ways been an addition, not the norm. And so when we think about an initiative around youth, we are generally looking at how to add them into an already established space. I believe that the people and the other professors and the other staff members at Trinity are working hard to shift the language toward addition and really move towards intentional opportunities, looking at a young adult not for them, not for what they can perform, but also their deep interaction as a church member, which constantly asks us to disrupt systems that have been created that can feel like they keep youth at the margins.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:06:02] What have you seen in regards to that? Maybe some practical examples of how you have noticed that the youth are kept at the margin because I think you pointed out something very important that we have been approaching. I hear a lot of people concerned about engaging with the new generations, with teenagers, with young adults, with being relevant, and things of that sort in the conversation. However, it seems like the question has been approached from, how do we insert them into what we have, and why is it that they don't want to be here anymore, whether it be a church context or engaging with organizations that have a long history in ways of doing things? And so I think you pointed something out that's very, very important: that if we continue to approach the conversation from how do we make them fit into what we already have, then we're losing so much of that beauty of what can really happen in those relationships. So I don't know if you want to touch upon that a little bit more.
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:07:13] Yeah, I think at the beginning of the question you asked how I've experienced students or young adults at the margin. I believe that in order to answer that, and I'll give a short reference—his name is leaving me right now—but we think about a church or ecumenical spaces as the mall, right? And when you go to the mall, there is a floor map so that you can decide where you're going to visit. Somewhere in the early 2000s or maybe mid-2000s, when we split to this model of the youth go one way and the parents go another way, unintentionally, I believe, we created a space where youth were on the margin because they did not remain in the key conversation. I'm not saying they didn't learn biblical practices or how to worship or catechesis, none of that. But they weren't in the main room, and when we remove them from the room, unintentionally, maybe, we created a place of exclusion rather than belonging, labels rather than including them as named participants. isolation versus what it means to actively engage conversation. Maybe not so much generosity, because that split model then asked the youth to stay separate right up through middle school, and then they're supposed to know how to interact in a congregational setting. And I think that we then move away from listening to understand or to get to know them in relationship [and] more towards judgment, because in a leadership mindset, we have an expectation that through their classes they already know what normalcy within a congregational family should look like.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:09:36] And I think, again, you pointed out something very important, as we know we have a very different audience, and they're leading in different contexts and ministries, and some sometimes it's hard because we have already inherited a certain structure, a way of working, a way of relating. And now we're starting to see some of the results of what you pointed out, that there were certain structures that were set in certainly not with the intention of isolating or excluding or hurting anyone; it was with the intention of being able to serve the needs of the different generations, depending on what we saw, right? And I think there's a lot of research about that in intergenerational relationship building that we see the progression throughout history, and especially in schools. It used to be that it was one schoolhouse with every single school grade together learning, and the older ones are teaching the younger ones. And then we went into this model, of course, because we cannot fit three thousand kids in one classroom, to sectioning, depending on their age and not so much their academic abilities, but just their age. And somehow the church was informed by that history of models of education in approaching the way that then we saw these aspects of faith development in Bible learning and in just growth. And like you pointed out, people have been learning, but then they have been learning in isolation, and it has brought a lot of ramifications too. I think we want to encourage those who are working within those structures to use what you point out, the disruption. And that can be a bit intimidating for some, that word.
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:11:35] Yeah, I think that disruption without relationship equals chaos. And that's a statement that I attempt to use specifically when dealing with folks that are working with young adults, whether that's primary education or college students, although I spend most of my time with college students. So to disrupt a pattern, like to ask young adults to automatically start investing in a space that they haven't been a vocal participant in, without having a relationship with them or an understanding of how they understand the basics, like how do you understand Jesus in this particular context, it becomes chaotic. But then if we take another deep dive, the split model, whether it was in education or in ecumenical settings or what have you, also started to impact the home life, and so that which we call communion was happening in homes, and then that decreased. And so the church, I believe unintentionally, and in some of our academic institutions, may be bringing an old perspective to a new part of the conversation when it comes to how are we going to empower and learn with our young adults versus what I like to call people who sit at the table and are scholars and have written all the books. Where are the voices who haven’t written books yet? And where are young adults that are leading sessions around leadership development and inclusion and have an agency in things like consistory, and the deacons that hand out a certain type of giving structure, or even at the classis level?
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:13:57] And I think as you're inviting others to think of these spaces for youth agency, how we can understand that the needs have changed. The needs and the interests of people have changed. So in the past, we know that the nucleus of the family was really that space of belonging, of nurturing, of knowing that I was connected, and the congregation was in a way supporting that. But there was all this infrastructure within the home that was taking place. But now we're shifting to where it's the most isolated of the generations. Older adults are only spending time with older adults, and kids with kids, and the Boston Globe calls it “generational islands.” And so we're kind of there floating around each other, but we're not really having relationship and community and interactions and learning from one another. And so that then hinders aspects like what you're pointing out, of youth agency and voice and having them involved in what's happening. That's something that the Catholic Church is implementing at this point because the pope ordered that they need to have listening sessions for the next, I believe, two or three years in the whole Catholic Church. The dioceses are shifting to how they're going to implement this because they really want to hear from people who are outside of the church who feel that that's not a place for them or have been hurt by it or have never heard of the Catholic Church. How do we make that space to sit down and listen and create space to hear, OK, maybe we think you need this? Why don't you just tell us what you need instead of us trying to guess and trying to figure out, OK, is this structure working for you? How do we attract you more to it? What bells and whistles can we have so that you would come? Maybe what we're offering is not what you are needing at this point. And so I think then the church and other structures have a big space to be able to then have these listening spaces and agency. And how have you been able to see either at your work at Trinity or in the church in the community? Some examples of how people are imagining these practices for listening and agency.
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:16:39] Over this summer, with the COVID restrictions, post-isolation, one of the things that we tried to do at Trinity was to say, OK, when we look at the demographics, who's leading, how are young adults leading, who's missing in the conversation? Those are the questions that I ask a lot. This particular example is that we didn't see, in this last year of student leadership, we didn't see a lot of guys apply. And for me, maybe I should say I'm not just a person who works with Generation Z or millennials; I'm a parent of a 22-year-old who just graduated from college. So for me to understand not just young adults, they need to be visible in leading structures, but also who even feels comfortable sharing about why they're not connected, or what are the systems in place that are unintentionally built that keeps them uninterested. And so with a couple of colleagues, I'm a big proponent of getting around a table. It diffuses things like religious disagreement, political disarray, so many things. When you sit around the table to commune around food, people can inhabit a space differently. And so over the summer on campus, just twice a week I just showed up with food, and whatever students would come, they came, but I was intentional about inviting guys. What I heard was things like, a lot of the roles that are being asked for leadership opportunities, whether that's in church or in our Christian campuses, deal with emotional characteristics: how to care for, how to inhabit a certain leadership style. And it's not that they didn't possess that; it was that they also bring different things to the table as soccer players and as business majors, just like our female students.
In another example, in other examples, would be youths, middle school guys, who we would just invite over to our home around food and do something as simple as timing how we put up a tent together. And watching them more from “This is awkward because we don't all have a deep relationship,” because that time I was pulling from the neighborhood, the church, just kind of throwing it out there. And then for them to understand what it takes to build something together and how they needed to relate.
A couple of other practices that I've seen is work that is modeled after Psalm 23, which allows us to rename that we are not alone, that we have kinship with the Lord, but also to regift identity. So there's this cultural narrative where everything is labeled, and specifically in my work I see Gen Zers and the younger ones [thinking], “If I am A, I can only be A.” So there's a discovery of beauty when you are in spaces that you can explore, “I am gifted in, let's say, singing, but God is also calling me in these other areas,” and to have mentors or leaders who can help to expose those to the students so that they can see themselves as active participants in the community of God.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:21:08] Thank you for sharing those examples, because it just really provides us with some cues of how do we put these things into practice? We want to continue reimagining how we interact with one another, and we know each context is different and has so many different needs and opportunities and also challenges. And so thank you for sharing how even something innovative as “Let's put a tent together, and that's going to bring us to have conversations, to build trust.” And I think that's something that also we need to keep in mind as we work with other generations, that it takes time to build that trust. And there's a lot of beauty in that, that it's not a prescribed process and it's going to happen in this much time, or if you spend three meals together, then they're going to start trusting you and opening up. It’s this very organic process that it's hard at times to engage with because it requires a lot of time investment and also sitting with perhaps being uncomfortable because it may take longer than you expected or there may be a lot of assumptions or barriers that need to be brought down first by the building of interactions and trust and positive experiences that then start helping people open up. But it does seem that in your campus students have felt that that's a safe space where they can come and share what's going on with them. How do you see the integration of spaces for theological questions? And what kind of practices have you been able to create for youth to explore their questions about faith and religion and theology and just life in general?
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:23:10] So many things happen around the table. And particularly on campus, the question that I started with is “What is revival?” Now, to some people, that might seem strange; however, for young adults to feel comfortable exploring about faith and religion and difference in theological practices, when you say “What is revival?”, well, we define revival as a group of people . . . engaging with the power of Christ and being changed and formed together. And so at a table with someone from Englewood on the south side of Chicago and Brazil and Ghana and Indonesia, revival is going to mean different things. I guess for me and for the leaders that I study, I'm watching them use questions versus their CV to engage deep conversations. And probably because I do more work with youth, through the CCCU diversity commissioner I work with soul care for CDOs or directors of multicultural engagement. And one of the things that we are constantly teaching is: stop recredentialing yourself. That means that I, Nicole, or any of my colleagues that I'm working with, we have to become human so that the students can actually interact with us and not our accomplishments, which means that I need to be listening. So I believe the theological question goes along with equipping folks around us— my setting would be on a college campus—to then understand what are some of the normal embodiments of practice in higher education that we are now seeing that we need to tease out a little bit toward a relational understanding and shared value of conversation and of relationships?
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:25:54] And I think you brought out this key aspect, whether it be in higher education or the church or any other organization, the need for education and training and being able to expose others to these ideas, and then how to put them into practice, because I think that's something that sometimes can be intimidating to say, Well, what if a young person comes and asks me a question, a theological question that I don't have an answer to? And I think also part of what is very helpful as we are imagining multiple models of ministry is to keep in the forefront that precisely because there's so much information out there, young people are really hungry and seeking guidance in knowing how to filter things, how to make the decisions that align with their values and what they foresee for their life. And they need those mentors that will come alongside of them and help them to sort through all this information. And they're hungry for it. I think we went through a few years where people felt that, OK, anything related to young people needs to be really watered down. It needs to be really fun and colorful, but don't go very deep because then you scare them and they go away. And so I think now we're understanding that they want to be challenged. Their thoughts are being challenged constantly, whether it's a TikTok video that brought up a certain question or a statement or something they saw on Instagram. And they're like, Oh, well, where do I get any information to either determine if this is something I align with, or yeah, I know that sounds great, but that's not really matching with what I have in my playbook, right? And so I think that's part of the the great opportunities that then organizations such as yours and mine, we can come alongside of others and help in that transition of how do we empower and educate and resource and give tools to the leaders we have around who are willing to come into these intergenerational spaces and and be available for the tough theological questions?
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:28:23] Yeah, you're correct. I think I'll give one example, and that is post-summer, so the start of the academic year—I'm a hoot, too; for people who know me, I try to be as funny as possible, wear my heart on my sleeve. And so when asked where I could share information about how we're engaging with our young people, I was invited to a faculty gathering to talk about some of the shifts that we might see in the classroom, or even with leadership positions such as worship leaders, prayer ministry leaders, you know, any of those practical positions. And one of the things that I'd like to highlight is at any given moment, especially at this time in history, you can have five generations in one space. We have silent, boomers, X, millennials, Gen Zers. Well, while that is a beauty of new creation, it's very complex when you start to try to implement things like shared understanding around what we're actually doing, or developing programmatic structures, or planning curriculum in the church or in the community. And so in that way, there's both an opportunity to discover what it means to be together generationally, but there also has to be someone who is reminding us this work is not going to be three songs and a five-minute devotion structure. It doesn't work like that. You have to have key people in each generation at an institution or a church to say, “Excuse me, . . . we value intergenerational practices of worship and formation, and we're not just saying we value it. Here are the key things that we are willing to do together to make sure that this is something that we hold out as important.”
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:30:51] And it's in those interweaving of the conversations, because that's the challenge and the beauty, that we're trying to find ways to minister in and feel the needs of different generations and what they're wanting to hear and see. And we know that then sometimes an intervention might lean more toward one, the needs of one or the other, but I think it's the beauty of that dance, of knowing how we continue to have those spaces where we’re able to say, “Well, this would be really good if we made this adjustment or if we made this change, would we be able to connect with more people at this time?” And just to keep each other in mind, I think that's something we're always bringing up for young leaders: to keep each other in mind in that spirit of service and humility, to know that, OK, there will be times when it's somebody else's turn to feel more of that connection to this particular thing, whether it be the songs chosen or the way that. . . . But those things are very difficult to do because it creates a lot of finesse on when and how. But I think as we become more aware that that's part of how society is working right now, and the privilege we have as people, as family in Christ to then be able to serve one another in that plane as difficult and as challenging as it is.
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:32:42] Yeah, yeah.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:32:44] You go ahead. Go ahead. I'm sorry.
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:32:47] No, no, no. You go ahead. . . . I think in terms of how we equip one another for me calls us to a posture of being available without leading. So as a part of the work through Duke Divinity, we've been asking the same question: How do we seek the welfare in our vocation? How do we seek the welfare in our congregations. All those questions. The underlining or the foundation for that work means that you are also showing up in spaces as an observer and as a participant, not only the things that you have created. And I wonder, if we as a people with common goals around church practices and those types of things, I wonder if our intergenerational relationships can grow and develop when we understand that in order to lead we also have to observe. We also have to take on spiritual disciplines of like, “I'm going to be silent in this process to see and to search for the things that maybe I'm bringing into a space that are not helping us in these ways.” So to me and for me, leadership development and spiritual formation are one and the same. If I'm growing spiritually, I'm also growing as a leader. And so an example of that would be when we get ready to plan a worship time where we're going to have a 92-year-old mother and a five-year-old child, we're not planning the worship so that everyone has likability or we are responding to what needs to be consumed, right? The gospel hasn't changed. Culture continues to shift, but the truth of the gospel—all are welcome, God calls us to the table, we are in the family of God—the gospel doesn't change that. And so what are the practices and the structures even when we think about how do we plan worship, multigenerational, multi-socioeconomic status, all these different things? And I wonder if it is calling leaders to different postures in different seasons.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:35:56] That sense of placing ourselves as leaders in in listening, in observing, and just feeling comfortable with you're going to come here and you're not going to say anything; you're just going to watch and you're going to let the experience teach you. And I always ask especially pastors and other leaders in the congregations, how many times have you gone and sat down at a Sunday school class for the toddlers? And it’s like, “Well, no, we have someone who's in charge of that, the director of education.” OK, but you're their pastor too, right? Have you ever sat there the whole lesson, the whole session, and just watch, just sit in the corner, watch, see what's going on with the middle schoolers and just see what is happening there? What are they telling you without having to come and have those conversations? And then we start picking up on a lot of cues that inform the way that we work and that spark our imagination to what can happen outside in different interconnectedness, like you're pointing out about intergenerational worship practices and what are some of the ways that we can include that. It just starts to inform us as to how are they seeing their spiritual growth and what are their needs? Now that you brought into the conversation this about intergenerational worship practices, what have you seen happening out there, whether it be . . . I know that you lead the choir at the university, at Trinity, and you're involved in many other ways through music and ministry. So I don't know if you could share with us a bit about those experiences you’ve had.
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:37:54] One of the formative things that have happened to me in the last five years is watching established leaders. Now I wouldn't consider myself at that place yet, but watching established leaders navigate inclusion around who's leading, who's reading scripture, on a campus or in a congregation. And so I remember being at the Multiethnic Leadership Development Institute through the CCCU—don't laugh; I have to say it like that because we call it melody. . . .
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:38:41] Nicole, if you don't mind, because not not all of us know what CCCU is. Would you mind sharing more about this?
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:38:49] OK, Christian Colleges and Universities. I think I got it right. We’ll make sure in the description to make sure we have the right naming of that. And I watch Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige lead, a group of leaders. Now we're brought in as people who have been nominated to go through this year-long institute development. And here she is leading us every day in worship with a complex range of people with complex gifts, and, again, socioeconomic status, and where we are in our institutions, and then toward the end of the week turning us toward: “Now we've only known each other a short time, how do we craft a conversation between God and his people with one another?” To me, that gave automatic agency to everyone under the age of 35, because now I'm not just showing up to receive something from this established person, but they're inviting me into a conversation to say, what I bring to the table matters. That's one example. Another example for me in higher education specifically, and because my work is around diversity, equity, and inclusion, is to watch those who are tenured professors, particularly older white men or older white women, think aloud with young people about their experience parallel to the culture that we've all been studying about. And then to highlight along the way, where were the key leaders? Where did they come from? How did they impact or empower people? And what did that do in your life? Well, immediately the story shifts from that faculty or that staff member, particularly we're talking about those who are Caucasian for a reason. Because those particular groups of people generally hold a firsthand view of a young adult of color or of the majority and can place them in the story. Well, if I've been placed in the story, then I feel like I can participate. So stories also play a big part in intergenerational experience. Finally, and I don't know what other congregations are doing this, but I got to work with a friend and we started to think about, OK, if someone speaks Dutch, and someone speaks Igbo, and Spanish, and we just kept going on—and you should know that my church context is very multicultural, and I don't mean that in a generic way. We are multicultural, multigenerational, and all that—so it started to get to a point where we’re like, have we gotten so far away from liturgy that we can't uphold the gift of, again, a 75-year-old guy who speaks Dutch and a middle schooler who is into hip-hop? So by learning in so many worship symposiums, I would always set a schedule and I felt like I was all over the place because I just wanted to absorb. But by inviting this older guy to speak scripture references in the native tongue but then having the 12-year-old girl from junior high read the English. Well, that means in order for them to do that, they have to sit down and have something, a conversation. And so the beauty of how we invite people to the table, how we give them agency, is the same for both the older who feel like they no longer belong, but also for the young adults as they establish belonging. So I feel like the pendulum keeps swinging because we're constantly wrapping in the story of Christ with one another in relationship while also understanding who we are and how we belong. That might have been a long answer. I do apologize.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:44:00] No, it's great because I think that interweaving what it looks like in the day-to-day in practice with these concepts that we've been discussing in other videos. We've been pointing that out that the basic need of people is to have their identity, their belonging, and their purpose, questions answered and resolved. And so, of course, with the younger generations, that is information. And they need not only the information, but the relationships that help shape and nurture and answer those questions for themselves. And especially right now, I think there's a huge gap in the belonging: Where do I fit? Because I'm finding that these structures and these social norms just have disconnected, but then the olders are also feeling that way, too. And so I think when we have seen examples like the one you pointed out about people from different generations and also socioeconomic, ethnocultural backgrounds coming together to say, “We have a small task; you're going to coordinate with each other about this reading.” And it just really impacts their life because they're able to tell the story about a time when we worked together, and it just starts to create bonds—if it's a positive experience, because there's always the the dynamics of, unfortunately, we have a tendency to want to tell young people what to do, right? That's just part of how things have always been perpetrated and done. But if we can come to them at an even plane and say, well, the two of us have to do this project, the two of us have the opportunity to bring our gifts and our points of view and our experience, and it just I think that's part of what we always want to encourage leaders to see—not to focus so much of the challenge, because I think the conversation has been led by that—it's so hard; it's so different; they need so many different things, they’re so different from us; they want something else; they don't like what we have. And unconsciously, we're creating this space of, yeah, we don't know what to do, versus the conversation [where it’s] what a beautiful gift we've been given that at this time, and in this moment, we have a wide array of perspectives and needs and ways of life and cultural backgrounds and access to technology or not. That then brings into the light a space for learning, for mutual learning, for creating these imaginations of what can come. But we have so much access now to each other if we create the spaces, and then beautiful things come up that we would never imagine, because then we have different voices coming in and saying, “Well, you know, it looks this way over here,” and just brings a lot of awareness if we're welcoming and open. We see a lot of churches that are trying this out, and sometimes it may not work the first time, but we want to encourage them to just continue doing it. The first time it might not work out where this young person and this elder are working on the project. But how do we also walk alongside of them and not just throw them in the pool and say, OK, here you go, work together? . . . But it does change the perceptions and the friendships that develop out of that and to be able to nurture that viewing of we are one family, we are one family in this community, and we may have different needs, and we're different ages, but wow, look at what comes when we work together. And I think that just fills people right. OK, well, that worked great. What else can we do? . . .
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:48:29] I think part of what I love and what I love about academia and the congregational life and our not-for-profits, whatever our ecumenical space is, if we can engage with those who are contributing to the resources that we are reading and we are teaching and learning from, when we can locate their humanity, I think that we can then say to our millennials and Gen Zers, “Justo Gonzalez is a great writer. How have we connected to him as a person?” or when I think about Adichie or Frederick Douglass or . . . So the mass of contributors to how we think about leadership and community development and sustainability is crazy, like it's a library that is beyond our mind. But I wonder if we keep those resources at arm's length by not engaging as much with the person who wrote what has contributed to us. I was going through my book list to think about things like: What would happen if I started to think aloud—I love Marva Dawn. What if I started to think about who she was as a person? What if I started to think about Latino culture not through one cultural lens, but by one where I can remain so curious that I don't just get to put stale lenses on life? And I think in order to discover that beauty and to remain countercultural, specifically post-COVID, because that's going to be a lot of our questions, how do we resurrect the life of the church post-COVID when we've been forced into these single boxes and basically depending on social media? I think that we remain curious with the gospel. That curiosity carries over into conversations like the one that you and I are having, but then really starts to infuse itself—once again, nothing is new under the sun—it starts to infuse itself into the home life. So while COVID for some people was just horrible, it also reminded us, we might have forgotten that we need to eat dinner together every day, so that when our high schooler is invited as a college student to a professor's house to eat, it doesn't seem like a foreign practice. This, at the table, is where we disagree about certain things, and we agree, but we are also informed by the wisdom of a grandma, or the different perspective of a neighbor. How do we get back to that? I think curiosity is one, but I also think that for some of us who are older and in these leadership positions, we might be called to disrupt what we know and go back to the scripture, go back to those contributors, and be curious again so that our young people can say, “She hasn't arrived. She's willing to walk, journey, and learn with me.” And I'm speaking about me, but of course those who are listening too.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:52:41] Yeah, I think you touch upon a very important point, that is to remember that humanity, and I always go back to John, where it is like “God is love.” That's the center of everything we're doing or should be. But as you pointed out, it does take nowadays a greater effort instead because it's countercultural, especially in the United States, where it's very individualistic, families are operating apart. I see it with my friends; they hardly see their children because they're so busy in so many different things. Even now with COVID, they're so busy in front of the computer. It’s still trying to interact with these spaces. And I found it very interesting. I heard the story of a couple that both work at home right now, but they have to schedule meetings on Sundays because they don't see each other, even though they're at home. And they want to schedule meetings on Sunday so that they can talk about what happened during the week and just have time to eat together. I think that's a lot of where some of the older generations who had a very different experience have such a great opportunity to provide that loving and nurturing and the spaces. Because as you pointed out, there's a lot of young people who have not had the experience of, “Oh, the family sits at the table to eat together and we have conversations,” and I see them all the time, and I go to a restaurant and I know right now there's not that many people out there, but they're like, “We're supposed to talk.”
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:54:33] But it's the whole family!
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:54:36] Yes, the whole family’s sitting together and the whole family's looking down at their phones or their tablets.
Nicole Saint-Victor [00:54:42] Well, at my house, I don't care if you're fourteen or twenty-seven. All the cell phones get dropped in a box when it's time to sit down at the table. But one of the things you made me think about, about God being love, is we think about the prodigal son and all of this interwork that this child was going through and the assumptions, but the embrace awaited him despite his thought process. I think with our young adult leaders, with the youth that are in our church, that we as older leaders have to enter into a time of confession to say, when did I become perfect? Because in that perfection my arms become crossed, and I can't receive that student or that leader or one who is struggling with gender identity. I can't receive them because I have this corrective lens or view. And so me, I know a lot of people are scholarly about their approach, and I do love working on my own personal scholarship. But at the end of the day, really, I find that if we can lead with truth and vulnerability, and we're able to embrace—not affirm or agree, but embrace to build trust, then things in congregational life, like young adults wanting to be a part of the worship ministry or wanting to understand the church order or wanting to join a gospel choir that I lead at Trinity—I went from maybe, I don't know, as low as nineteen to this year having fifty-five students. Many of them enjoy music. But they are coming because they're finding a community. And so relationships get bui, and we cry together, and I mean, in my time and in thinking of choral choirs, I've had students lose parents and celebrate births of nephews and all that, and all of that was done together in that student group. Now they have agency for what it means to be a family, what it means to be Christian brothers and sisters in Christ.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:57:25] Yeah, and that's really so attractive. I mean, when people see an organizational culture and environment, a church, a community that is open and welcoming and loving, all the other flaws become secondary because they know it's like, I belong here and I'm loved. And I think you pointed that out that sometimes for leaders it’s very important for us to to come to that reflection space, in the space of repentance, to say, Why have I played into the social norm and expectation of what leadership needs to look like, that I need to be this perfect person, that young people need to fulfill my expectations of who they need to be, how they need to behave? And that has created walls and barriers and separations instead of saying, OK, great, I have this other set of things that I have acquired during the journey; how do I then open up to this right? And you pointed out Justo Gonzalez; for those who don't know him, we always joke around with him and we say, “You're the pope for for the Protestant church,” because he's Cuban, and he's written anything and everything under the sun that has to do with church history, and he's just this, he is this eminence who has written every book that everyone references about in the encyclopedias. And yet the way I know him is he invites me to eat at his house, he goes out to his garden, he picks up some of the fruit and herbs, and he invites me to stuff the pork for Christmas. And that's the kind of relationship that we have. . . . He and his wife, Catherine, that’s what they're craving to, to not to be seen as these super authors who have continued, but as 90-, maybe 80-something-year-old leaders who are still in their faith walk, and they're learning and they're sharing over Cuban coffee, and it's just remaining humble and open and loving and to say, I have so much to learn from you. . . . And it's just that mutual space. We just want to hang out and drink coffee. We don’t need these deep theological conversations . . . about the twentieth book that I've written. Can we just sit down and watch an episode of PBS, right? And it creates a whole other way of relationship that many have not seen, embodied, or exampled them. And so it makes them feel like, well, there's going to be this distance between us, and what young people want to know is like, how do I live this day-to-day life and faith walk in all the complexities? Wow, like the olders have such a toolbox and an opportunity of passing that legacy of faith onto others, and in the end, when the world is telling you that you're no longer useful, and that you don't fit in here, and that everything is geared towards the younger ones, to know that in Christ it was designed that way, to pass on faith from one generation to the other. The Bible over and over again tells us, the olders teach the youngers. And sometimes we think, why are they walking away from the church? Where are the olders who were teaching the youngers? I don't know, because I was the one youth minister or Sunday school teacher or supposed leader that was trying to influence them. So what a beauty that in the family of Christ and church and these Christian organizations, it's different. The older ones have such a great place of the opportunity to pass on the legacy and be able to give that gift to the younger ones. And they're hungry for it. They really do want to hang out with us. That's why we see all these viral videos of 80- something, 90-something-year-old grandmothers, because they're like, Oh, I want to know, how do you do life? How do you cook that? How do you fix this? So thank you so much, Nicole, for pointing out these experiences that you're having and just encouraging people to to open up their lenses to what the possibilities are. I don't know if there's anything else you want to wrap up with about these aspects of working with the younger generations and creating these spaces for intergenerational relationships.
Nicole Saint-Victor [01:02:46] I just say keep networking. Find out what other folks are doing in their churches, in their colleges. Go have a cup of coffee if you can, or if you're at a conference you can grab a quick meal, become, remain a student, remain a learner. I've learned so much over my lifetime, but particularly in the last two to three years, and it's all been about conversation and networking, so stay open to possibilities.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [01:03:18] Thank you so much, Nicole, for this engaging conversation. We have learned so much from you today.
Nicole Saint-Victor [01:03:26] And thank you so much for having me and for allowing me to join into these sessions.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [01:03:35] And now you have helped us to remember some of the aspects and the values that are going to help us to continue these conversations as we are trying to imagine multiple models of ministry with youth, something that may spark us into what may be and in what new ways we can . . . or even encourage us that, yeah, what you're doing, you're heading in the right direction. This is going to give fruit eventually if you continue with these practices. And so that's our prayer that these conversations inspire and encourage your efforts in ministry for reaching the next generation, and as Nicole invited us, to remain open to learning from one another, and this is why we have created this series: to be able to give these spaces. I've learned so much from you today. And we want to encourage those who are viewing and reading the blogs to just continue to remain open so we can learn from one another. That's why we want to invite you to join us for the next video in the series and to please leave us a comment about the session, because we wanted not just to be a one-sided voice. We want to really hear from you and continue the conversation. Thank you, Nicole, for today, and I look forward to continuing our conversations in the future. Thank you for all you do in ministry.
Nicole Saint-Victor [01:04:56] Thank you so much.