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Empowering Children and Youth through Active Involvement 

In this conversation, Priscilla Rodriquez shares with Elizabeth Tamez Mendez about her worshiping community in Chicago which provides accessible leaders with a guiding presence so that early on children are encouraged to be creative and share their gifts as they grow up in the life of faith and the church. 

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, executive director of New Generation3 and a longtime collaborator with the CICW. Today Priscilla Rodriquez is joining us for a conversation in this next video in the series. Priscilla, thank you for being our guest. We’re so happy to have you here. 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:00:45] Thank you, Elizabeth, for this information. I'd like to thank you and the CICW for giving me this opportunity. My name is Priscilla Rodriquez. I am a lay leader within Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal, M.I. Rios de Agua Viva, which is located on the southeast side of Chicago. My pastors are Rev. Hector Laboy and Zulma Laboy. I also work at McCormick Theological Seminary as a coordinator, and I'm in the midst of completing my MDiv degree. I am more than happy to join you all this day and to talk a little bit on this subject matter. Thank you.

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:01:27] No, thank you, Priscilla. This really helps us to get to know you better and to understand the spaces where you work and relate to youth. As you know, the CICW has been working on gathering insights around this theme. We want to come together and learn about community worship practices in different contexts. That's why I wanted to make sure that we had someone from the Assemblies of God to come and share with us how this context works, and we want to especially look into worship practices that encourage intergenerational connections. We know that worship spaces can become flourishing spots for fruitful relationships and passing on the faith. In today’s conversation we want to focus on those practices that include and empower youth. Before we move forward, we want to let our viewers know that from our conversations in this series, we have chosen five values to shape this project on corporate worship and 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. Priscilla, how has your work with youth and young adults Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal, the Pentecostal Church of God, influence and open spaces for youth agency? You were telling me about some of the very creative ways that different generations connect to your church. So if you could share with us more about this 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:03:06] OK, I would like to share a little bit about my context. We are located on the southeast side of Chicago, and that is a mixed neighborhood of brown and African-American people. Our church is a Latinx church. We have a majority of Puerto Ricans. We have people from El Salvador, I think Guatemala, and Mexico in our congregation. We have five generations in our church. Our oldest member is ninety-six years old, and she just happens to be the pastor's grandmother. And we have a new baby in our church. So we incorporate the youth and the children within all aspects of church life.

I would like to begin with worship. At church, we have different worship teams that take a turn every Sunday. We have a worship team that is comprised of three of the older ladies in church, and we have one that is with the middle ages, and we have one with the youth group. Within those, there is at least one person who is part of the youth group who is involved within that worship team. When the youth are involved in worship, we do not tell them what to sing. They choose the songs that they want to sing, and they go and they practice with the musicians in church. That's how they do that. Within the liturgy at church, the children and the youth are involved. The structure of our church liturgy is that we begin with . . . reading the Bible. Then we do worship, which is when we do our singing, and within that we collect our offering, and the pastor preaches. Within the liturgy, at the beginning, we have children who read the Bible. They’re the ones that are old enough to read the Bible. They open up with reading the Bible; when it comes to singing, our youth are involved in various of our worship teams. And there have been moments when my pastor does visual, or it could be called theatrical preaching, and he incorporates the youth within those preachings. They're the ones who either act it out . . . At times he’ll practice with them and at other times just spontaneously call them out from the congregation to take part. It's really a lot of fun when he does those. He has done . . . my pastor, he has dressed as a shepherd. Recently, he did a series dressed as a shepherd. One time he stood up from the pulpit with a fishing pole. One time he used a tent in church. So he does this sporadically throughout the year at church. 

But children and youth are in the worship service from the beginning. We only take out the children during worship when it's time for the preaching because we want our children to understand the Word of God. So when we do that, there is one person in the congregation that is in charge of assigning a different person every Sunday to bring the biblical story to church. That can be one of our youth or that could be one of our parents. Recently, I saw when one of our parents, her daughter is involved, and her daughter helps to give the Bible story, and she’ll go to the back to work with her mom. In addition to that, we put one of our young people as a helper to help whichever teacher is in front. So those are the ways that we interconnect the generations and, we could say, bounce off of each other. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:07:03] It’s that relationship of being able to influence one another and feed off of each other. It sounds that the youth are very interconnected with everything that is being done, and they have agency because they get to make some decisions about what worship would look like. How often do they get a chance to do this in church, where they're the ones making the decisions about, like you were saying, which songs will be [sung], or what readings will come about, or if they’re going to help teach someone else? How often does that happen in your church? 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:07:43] I know every last Sunday the youth are in charge of worship. Every last Sunday, they’re the ones that are in charge of worship. So on that particular Sunday, they tell the musicians, “This is what we're going to sing. These are the songs that we’re going to sing,” and they practice. They practice on Fridays, as a matter of fact, for that. When it comes to reading the Bible, the kids have to work with the parents and let the parents know, “Hey, Johnny's going to read the Bible on Sunday,” and we let them pick the scripture. Or if the pastor wants to keep within the theme, he'll say, “We’re going to be preaching on sheep, . . . if you could find something [about] sheep,” but he doesn’t say, “This is what you have to read.” They choose what they’re going to read on that given Sunday. So normally . . . the parents will stand up with their kids in the front; we’ll open worship that way, will open our Sunday worship that way with the children. But we don’t tell them how to do it. Same thing in kids’ worship, when the kids get the Word of God on Sundays: we don’t tell them what they need to do or how they need to do it, because that would be limiting their gifts and what they could possibly bring to the table. . . . Subject matter, we can say, “OK, this is the subject, but you run with it.” We don't tell them, “You have to bring a Bible. You have to do this.” 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:09:20] You were pointing something out that that was very crucial, that informing each other and being able to shape one another in this process, and also the interconnection, because then the pastor is in communication with the parents and with the youth, so it’s not a distanced relationship. . . . How do they receive more insight? Although they have agency, how is that process shaped? Because I know for some youth that may be a little bit overwhelming or just being asked to have this much agency to choose the songs. How has that process taken place? How did this evolve in your church? Because I know you’ve been there for a long time. 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:10:21] So one of the things that I love is that my pastor is accessible. His wife is accessible. We’re all accessible. So if the pastor says, “I need you to help me with this,” he'll sit with you and he’ll say, “Let me help you with this.” If it's something that’s coming out of the department of education. . . . So one of the things that happens with our department of education is we meet as a team, and that’s where we plan, we plan our children's VBS [Vacation Bible School], we plan our kids’ VBS, we plan [for] the Month of the Bible in September. So when we plan these things, we let people know. When we do the education pieces, I tell the people, “If you need anything, call me, text me. It doesn't matter what time. Let me know.”

I remember the first time we [asked] one of the women in church to do something, she was like, “Oh my goodness, I don't know what to do.” I go, “Don't worry; just be yourself. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to call. Reach out.” Pastor is the same way with the kids; he’s that way with the youth. I remember one time—and I love this analogy, and his wife is the same way—the analogy of him saying he was sitting on the stairs and one of the kids asked him, Can I—he gave him a few words, and the young child asks, “Can I pray for you?” He said, “Sure!” And he let the child pray over him. So there’s just that interconnectedness in church.

And even with the youth—we did a series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And when we did our last one, I remember Pastor saying, “Whatever question you guys have, you guys let me know. Let me know, and we can address those questions. We could bring those questions to youth service. But you can bring them to me, bring them to my wife”—we have co-pastors—“but I need you to bring it to any of them. And we can bring those topics forth and talk about them in church and answer those questions and help you guys out throughout your doubts.” So there's that safe space created. There's youth service on Fridays; he's always there unless he has an outing; him and his wife and our co-pastors, they're always there. . . . They're involved in the life of the church. It's not “We can't approach Pastor. We can't approach . . . [anybody] from education.” It's not like that at all. It's not like that at all. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:13:21] There's more of that mentoring relationship. . . . This example you were giving of one of the women that was invited to get involved in participating and having a role in the worship and in teaching [and] she was a bit like, I don't know how to do that. So how do you guys walk alongside of youth when they're being asked? Because for an adult, it's a bit daunting; I can imagine [even more] for youth and children. So how do you walk alongside of them in your congregation when you ask them? This is your need, right, in your context? The user having so much agency, they're completely integrated into all the work that is being done. But there has to be a process to get to that point. Would you share with us a little bit more about how you go from a young person growing up at church and then being involved in leadership positions having this much agency in the congregation? 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:14:30] So one of the things that I've always said that I like about the church, particularly the Pentecostal Church, is that we really start training since they're little. You treat them since they're little to be leaders. When you give a child the opportunity to give a story, when you give a child the opportunity to stand in the front and read the Bible, if our babies are walking in the congregation and one wants to stand up front with Dad while Dad is playing or singing, or Mom, we do not take them down and say, “No, you can't.” They do it. We let them do it. So those are one of the things you talked about.

The mentoring fleet part, we don't use the word mentoring, but it happens within the congregation. It happens among the congregation. You walk alongside those people. You help them, and you don't tell them what to do. And I'm being very transparent here: that's something that's hard as a seasoned leader. I could say that for myself. And I'll be honest, there are times when I hear, I feel the Holy Spirit saying, “No, you're not going to tell them; you're going to wait and ask them and listen to what their response is and guide them along that way.” Because as mentors we're not supposed to tell people; you guide them. And if they make a mistake, it's OK. OK, this didn't work. Let's go back. Let's see what we can do to work through this. Same thing with the young people. If you ask a young person to do something, don't envision what that’s supposed to look like, but rather give that young person the space to be creative and use their gifts. And whatever it is, you put them to . . . sing a song and he comes up with this rap song? All right, thank you. You know? So I think we need to—and I'm talking about myself; I should say I need to; in a lot of instances this has been something that I learned, and I really learned it while I was teaching because I had my co-pastors who are younger than me (actually, the whole class was younger) and I was teaching them, and I remember there were times when I heard, “No, you're not going to lead that prayer. They're going to lead that prayer.” So just that space, leave them that space to be creative. If we keep telling people what to do, they're never going to have any space to be creative or to be innovative. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:17:18] Yeah, and I think you're really honing in on that you see the gifts they have, and I think that's part of a lot of our church is that we come from a different background; we emphasize that, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not limited to a certain age group. So who's to say; it's like this child has the need of “I want to pray for my pastor” and knows that they have the liberty to come up to the pastor after that conversation and say, “Now I want to pray for you.” And those are things that they're learning, right? Because they're not just sporadically . . . and then also the environment that has been shaped in that congregation, by the pastor, by the other leaders who, like you, emphasize a lot at the beginning: we're approachable, we're approachable. So children know, “It's OK to talk to my pastor,” and youth know that the pastor's going to be here in the worship service and the youth service. . . . So there's that connection.

Now when you see the energy and the creativity and then being able to build that and shepherd them into knowing how to shape it, I think what you're saying is not so much of a structured mentoring program, but rather this is how the life of the congregation is. Everyone is involved, everyone is mentoring, and leaders are learning to say “Give them space; let them show you and surprise you,” because there's times, like you're saying, we have these preconceived notions that it should turn out this way or let’s do it this way. And then they do something that is like, Oh, wow, this works even better. 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:19:16] I can give you another example. So in our church, my pastor, he had heard about this at some workshop or something about VBS. He came to the education department and goes, “Hey, I want to have an adult VBS.” I was like, what? You want to have an adult VBS? OK. So we gathered, and I think we've done two or three so far, but I really want to hone in a little bit on our last adult Vacation Bible School. So the first thing that came up was with our superintendent, Carol, who's a teacher; she's professionally a teacher. We all gather as a group to plan this. It's not just left on Carol; it's just not left on the pastor; we all gather as a group to plan our VBS. So when she came in, she goes, “I had one complaint from the adults,” and I said, “Well, what was that?” And they were complaining because we didn't have a game for the adults like we did for the VBS for the kids. So we're like, “Oh, that's easy. We can fix that. We can take care of that.” So we did. But in the very last, before the pandemic came, our very last VBS, what we did was . . . one story came from the department of education, the second story came from the children, from the kids’ ministry, and the third story came from the youth, and they were all given the liberty to use their creativ[ity] however they wanted to give it. And it was a blast. If you would have seen everybody laughing and just taking everything in, it was amazing just to see. The kids, they brought their story the way they would normally bring a kid’s story, acting it out and costumes and everything. And then the youth decided to do a talk show, and that was hilarious because they even had an applause sign that they would hold up. So those are just the different things that we do to bring everybody together. And we also have an art project. And of course, all hands are on those art projects because the younger folks help the older folks with the painting or whatever that art project looks like for that VBS. So those are just those are just some of the things that we do in the life of the church, things that are as sacred as communion. You know, children are involved in communion. There was a time when communion was like, “Oh, you can only do it if you're baptized.” And Pastor decided to open the table for the older youth. So when we have communion, we give three grapes to the kids because we believe in a triune God, to represent a triune God. And we use the regular cups and the bread for the adults. And that's how we do communion together within the life of the church. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:22:29] So then it sounds like the adult VBS really becomes an intergenerational VBS. So then there's different participation. Can you tell me more about those intergenerational connections, how those are working? 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:22:48] They were great. So we structure adult VBS just like we have a kids’ VBS. So at the end, we all got to sing a song. If we’ve got to act that out, we act it out. And we don't give them certificates, but we give them these ribbons with a medallion . . . to show their graduation from VBS. So that's how we do that piece. Usually, I would say, the jovens, the youth, are the ones that are a little bit more involved in that. And they come, they participate in everything, they sing on that Sunday when we do the choir thing, and they do the paintings or the art. We've done paintings—I think we've done two paintings, and the very first one we did a mosaic with construction paper, so they're involved in that way. So that's how it becomes intergenerational. That's how everybody gets involved in that piece.

I would like to share our very first activity; it was our VBS, and I'm going to show you some of the art that everybody came up with as an example. [Shows slide of mosaic projects.] So all of these are the mosaics that we created during our first VBS. How does this become an intergenerational event? Well, they all have to come together to create the pictures that they each created. Again, nobody was told what to create. What we did do was we had the squares and everything ready to go for the VBS. And that first VBS had to do with the fruit of the Spirit. And we divided them up into different groups, and each group would decide on a subject theme and what that was going to look like. So we had groups; we had the older with the younger, the older people with the younger people here, different ages in the groups. It was not just one age. So this means that we had teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies—you know, the women in the church don’t like to say their age, so I don't know how old the other women [are] in our church. But they were into it! 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:25:24] So they have to work together, all these age groups, and they had to work together and come up with the idea for the representation. 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:25:33] Yes. First, they have to come up with the concept. What is our mosaic going to look like? Then they had to grab whatever colors. What colors are we going to use in our mosaic? And then they had to grab the materials that they needed and the glue that they needed to work on their mosaics. So some of them took them home because we didn't have enough time to finish. You know, there wasn't enough time to finish because we only have three days of adult VBS. But I think this was by far one of my favorites, because here this is their creation. The other two we did painting projects, and you know when you do those group painting projects, you basically do the same picture. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:26:28] So this is a great idea. Thank you for sharing with us about that. That created probably a lot of spaces for conversations that would not have happened in other situations and also the opportunity for different generations to talk to each other. But it sounds like in your congregation, the different generations know each other a lot more. They're not separated or strangers; they're just always having spaces of work together. Could you share with us about those intergenerational spaces? Because I know that you also mentioned about the work with the parents and young adults or youth and children doing some activities with their parents in the church. So we would just really love to hear about that, how the role of the family is highlighted in all these dynamics in the life of the congregation. 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:27:36] I think one of the things that I want to start off with is myself again. I have my deep-rooted faith because of my mom and my dad. When we were little, we went to church; after my parents divorced I always remember my mom took us to church. I mean, I've been to a Methodist, I've been to an Assemblies of God church, and now I've been in the denomination that is known as Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal, M. I. for a lot of years. So my faith, my foundation, came from home. . . . I still remember Mom sending us to VBS at church. We would have limber, which is . . . like a popsicle, but it's homemade and it's in a little cup. And they would normally make it out of coconut or piña colada. And still the bread and butter—I still remember eating the bread and butter that we would eat during our little time off. So these are opportunities for parents to be involved with their children. You talk about the parents or some of the women or some of the men in the congregation taking turns every Sunday to give the “preaching,” so to speak, to the children, if there's a parent and they have a youth, most of the time you see the parent with the youth in the room working with the children; in addition to that, there is a young person assigned every Sunday to help the teacher or whoever’s there. And that's sort of interesting to see because they're the ones who take the kids to the bathroom. You see them walking, and I think, wow, that's pretty amazing. So that's one way. The other way is in the worship teams. One of the worship teams, there's a daughter and there's a mother actively involved in that particular worship team in addition to her being involved with the youth worship team. One of the things I love is when our elders lead worship, you know, the kids know the songs, they know the old-school songs because we sing both. But the greatest thing is when you see the older generation clapping and singing and looking up at the board, singing right along with the youth and really getting into the service. As you know, we play maracas, we clap our hands, we play tambourines, and you see them playing the maracas, playing the tambourines. I've even seen the pastor's grandmother moving left to right and keeping rhythm, so that's always important. One of the things that I shared is, not too long ago one of our little boys, he had to read in the front, so Mom was in front with him; his dad is the church treasurer at church, and he came out. He came out and he stood in the middle of the aisle to watch his son read the Bible. So things such as that. The last time another little boy, his mom stood up with him to read the Bible. His dad sits in the front row, he sits in the third bench. Dad was there watching him too. So these are ways that they support the children. You know, the children come to the youth activities. Children come to the youth service, and they're listening. It's not like they're not paying attention. They're listening. We just had a youth social. So that's one of the things that we do once a month. The youth have a little show on Fridays. We had a Christmas gathering, and one of the things—Johnny, one of our little boys, it was so funny—we had an ugly sweater competition, and they had to walk down a runway. We put runway music on, and Johnny participated. So at the end we clapped for the one who did the best and Johnny won second prize. So those are the kind of things that we do. We don't push them aside, their kids. No, you can't do that. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:32:19] And then you're always promoting that interconnection between the parents and the teenagers and kids to continue showing them support, but also example. 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:32:35] Yes, by example. Because even during the youth social, all the parents were at a table, and then there's one parent that’s getting a little bit more involved with the youth ministry. He was helping out our co-pastors because they were in front at the time. He was helping out with the organization and everything. That's part of the way they're involved, part of their children's lives when it comes to church life. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:33:09] How else has your congregation and your community been able to support parents in their role to continue shaping the faith and religious life of their children? 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:33:24] I think one of the ways is really by keeping them actively involved in whichever way possible, even if that means presence like having that where they all just sat together at that table and they had their own conversations over there, and by supporting them also. We have a young man whose mom decided she wanted to go to another church, and he told his mom that he wanted to stay there. That's where he's grown up all of his life. And I would see Pastor going up to him saying, “Hey, how you doing?” Or he messes around with him too sometimes—in a good way, not in a bad way.

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:34:11] Like joke around with you. 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:34:13] Yeah, he likes to do that. He likes to do that. So in those different kinds of ways. Even if a parent needs help having a conversation either with the pastor or leader or within the church, you know, that could help too; that's a good way. And recently, in November, we did a series on the family, actually; we just finished doing that because the pastor felt like we needed to hone in on the family, so we had different topics around discipleship in the family. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:34:58] So then your pastor in the congregation intentionally focused on helping guide families and parents, whether they be parents, meaning like the broader term, like guardians and grandparents. So your congregation has been doing some intentional work on . . . 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:35:22] Helping single parents too. So we recently—this is brand new—we had a couple of young ladies who felt led to work with the singles, but . . . inclusive singles, including parents, and that has turned out to be really good. They've only met like three times. But we've heard how appreciative they are to have that space where they can meet and they can talk in a space where you don't feel the pressure [of] OK, this is a singles group. You know that in the Latinx community that means something else sometimes. So one of the things that we wanted to make clear when we met with the young ladies, we were like, Well, what are you thinking of with the singles ministry? So one of the things that they said is “We don't want to feel the pressure about trying to look for our soulmate. We don't want that . . . pressure to get married. This is a group where we want to be able to just support each other and just be there for each other.” So that's worked out really good. If it happens, it happens. But that's not the focus. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:36:46] . . . And the strength of that spiritual bond. But that's great, because then they're able to have a space for spiritual connection from when they’re children and throughout every step and stage of their life. That's what your congregation has been able to offer. And you were telling me also about the parents and how they're always interacting with youth and the kids, and then the series that was done in the church. How else have you seen the parents passing down their faith to their kids? What have you seen in regards to that? 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:37:32] I would say first by example, right? So in our church, one of the things that we do is when we get to church, if you are able to kneel, when you walk in the doors you kneel down and pray. So oftentimes you'll see the parents grab their kid and say “Come on,” and they kneel down and pray next to their parents. . . . It's just a prayer to give thanks for entering the church and recognizing that you have walked into the sanctuary, that you’re in church. So that's one way. Presence—I think presence is so important, and I think sometimes we think it's not, but it is. Also, by actively participating, and at home. I mean, if you don't practice prayer at home, when they put their child to read, you could tell that the parent has been practicing with the young kids because they don't stand up there and . . .

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:38:33] . . . feel intimidated. 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:38:34] Yeah, you could tell. They read it, and they read it well, let me put it that way. They don't stumble over their words or anything like that. The same thing when there's plays at church and the kids are in the play, they do excellent jobs. We just had our Christmas play, and the kids did—the little girl was dressed as a star. A couple of the kids have sheep’s uniform—and they did a great job because their parents are with them. They take them to practice. So in those ways. And if you don't practice that stuff at home with your children, if your child is put to sing a song in the front and you don't practice with them at home, they're not going to get it. You have to help your child from the house. . . . 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:39:32] And I think that's so important that you highlighted that, the example that they get at home. And then also, as you've mentioned, your mom just being that strong influence in shaping your spiritual and your religious life. I was mentioning to you about some of the research that continues to show, over and over again, that the leading role in shaping the religious and spiritual life of children is the parent. And I know that sometimes society tells us a different story, but this happens well after the children leave the home, like you and I have seen, right? We still have that influence. And I get it even from my grandparents. So that influence continues the rest of your life. And I know that sometimes society and media tell us that really peers and social media and school are the influencers in young people's lives. But I wanted to encourage our viewers, and especially those who are parents and those who are thinking and considering how else can we get more involved with parents and in shaping their spiritual lives, that it's encouraging to know that, regardless of the other influences, the parents are still the key. The young people hear other ideas or influences, and yet in the back of their mind is that filter that their parents form, whether that was a single parent or married or guardian, that parental role influence continues to shape who they become in their spiritual lives. So I think your congregation has captured well that if a parent and a child are working together to do things such as Bible reading or singing in worship. . . .

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:41:31] . . . I took a picture of this because this is just beautiful. During the social with the youth, I saw one of the youths standing next to his dad with his arms around his dad just having a conversation. . . . This is a blended family. . . . So the teenagers in the family, two of them are from another person. And one of the boys is from another relationship that his wife had; she was previously married. And just to see him, just how they gelled so beautifully together is amazing to me. Just to see him standing with his son just talking, you know, this is beautiful. You hardly ever see this. I go, “I have to take a picture!” So just this moment—I am not a parent, but I observe a lot in the congregation and that is something that I have observed so many times is when I see these teenagers with their parents, and there messing around, joking around, or they're singing together—I don't know where the notion came up that it's the church's responsibility or it’s social media's responsibility to raise a child. If you were blessed with having children, if you were blessed, then that blessing, that responsibility, was given to you as a parent. And if you can't, then maybe there's somebody else in the family. If you have an aunt that can take you to church, don't prohibit that person from doing that and helping to form your child within the faith, whatever that faith might look like. I'm not just talking about the Christian faith, because faith is different things to different people, and whatever that looks like, it's important.

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:43:52] Yeah, that role, it just cannot be replaced. And I think that’s where as churches and congregations we can come alongside the parents. I'm reading this book of new research [called] Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion On to the Next Generation, by Christian Smith and Amy Adamczyk, and in their research they keep pointing out that that type of relationship is crucial in the process. The way the parents and the children interact is what's going to determine if the faith is passed down. And so if they have those—they give several aspects of it, but [one] that really stood out to me was the warmth in affirming relationships, like you mentioned about this father and son, right? Even though they’re a blended family, the children continue to know that . . . It can be hard with teenagers because then they start having a mind of their own and a mouth of their own. But to continue having those warm and affirming relationships and also the quality and the content of the conversations, because we want to have these conversations about our spiritual life and what we want to pass on, the faith and the biblical principles, but it has to be the how—how we speak to that. And then also I think you pointed out how your congregation makes an intentional effort that we know that children need something different during worship service, so when it's time for the sermon, there's a space for them where they get more age appropriate. And I think a lot of times it's hard for parents to envision that child-centered conversation and letting them ask the questions versus us always talking to them about our faith. It's just letting them ask the questions about the things they're curious about, about the things they're really wondering about, about things that will affect life as they see it, because we think we can interpret what their worries are or where they want to see things applied. It’s only by talking to them that we can listen and then be able to dig down. And then the other two [the book] also talked about [was] not too much or too little, not overwhelming them with conversations about our faith, not being oppressive, [or in contrast] not even touching upon that topic. I think a lot of parents also feel a bit overwhelmed at times. Where do I start? What do I say? How do I say it? But to know that if you're intentional, you're consistent, and you're actively engaged, it's not about having the perfect answers, but rather that affirming, warm relationship that supports the openness and just letting them ask their questions. And that's OK. Because if you don't know, you can say, “Why don't we ask so-and- so this?”, like the pastor or the Sunday school teacher. And then I think what you were pointing out a lot is the congruency. If I say this, but I do something different, it just kills that ability. [Young people will] say, “OK, you want to teach me about these things and pass on the faith, but I'm not seeing a match between what's going on in everyday life.” So I am grateful for congregations like yours that say we're intentionally finding ways to empower parents and to say they're going to be spaces for having these conversations and spaces for the two generations to work together. 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:47:59] And there have to be spaces too for uncomfortable conversations that could be very uncomfortable because they're subject matters that are not taught within church. This came up with the singles ministry. There was a conversation, and it's not something that's normally talked about. So I told the young ladies, mentoring them behind the [scenes], I told them, “I know that this is not a comfortable subject matter for you to even listen about. And secondly, you have to understand that the dynamic between the group, they’re family members, they're like cousins. But . . . bring it to the pastor's attention. Talk with the pastor.” And they did. And he was like, these are things that are not talked about. So we’ve got to figure out a way of how to work with this or work around it. So those things, even with our children, I mean, sometimes I feel bad. Children are not given the space to be children anymore. It seems like they have to grow up overnight, you know? . . . I'm not a parent, like I said; I might be a surrogate to some. I mean, if you're a parent and you're you're so busy and there's somebody in church, somebody that you know, that you could trust, that you're related to, or maybe not, but they're like family and you could trust them, give them that space if you're not able to because of your work schedule, because of your school schedule, because maybe you don't like the church, whatever the reason is. I have a good friend who had somebody that would take her to church. She's like, “She's a leader. She's always been the leader. She's a trailblazer, as a matter of fact.” 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:50:08] Almost like knowing that your congregation can be that extended family that surrounds you to support their spiritual and faith formation. 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:50:19] Yes, yes, yes. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:50:22] Thank you so much, Priscilla, for letting us see a little bit about your context and everything that's going on in your congregation because I know they're very intentional about these intergenerational relationships and empowering youth and making sure that they're really part of all the life that goes on in that congregation. I appreciate that you gave us a chance today to get into that a little bit. 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:50:48] Thank you for allowing me to share and for this wonderful opportunity. I enjoy doing this kind of stuff because it helps me reflect back on my congregation and actually what the congregation is doing. So thank you for this amazing opportunity. I'm very grateful to you and to the organization. 

Elizabeth Tamez Méndez [00:51:12] Well, thank you, Priscilla, for this engaging conversation. We have learned so much from you today. And we also want to thank our viewers for joining us in this session of Imagining Multiple Models of Ministry with Youth. We pray these conversations inspire and encourage your efforts in reaching the next generation. And please leave us a comment about the session. We really want to hear from you and want to continue the conversation. Thank you, Priscilla. 

Priscilla Rodriquez [00:51:40] Thank you. Have a great day.