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Churches turn focus to island youths

"Hoping to reach out to young people in their congregation and in the community, two Bainbridge churches have added new staff to focus on youths and their families.Dan Holland has joined the staff at Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church as director of youth missions and ministries, while Julie Honig-Smith has come to St. Barnabas Episcopal Church as associate rector, with a focus on youth work.At Rolling Bay, the impetus for expanding the youth ministry was a perception of need on the island.A church institute study last year showed that some 40 percent of the island's youth were 'at risk,' associate pastor Jim Wellman said. That was a shocking number in my mind, and showed that a lot of young people maybe don't have the connections to the community that others have.So the church brought on the 24-year-old Holland, 1998 graduate of the University of Washington who had been serving an internship at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle.Holland's focus is to involve young people in community-building activities, not just in overtly church-related activity.Recently, he took a group of island youths to Wapato, a culturally diverse, economically depressed town in central Washington. Between teaching vacation Bible school in the morning and working at a local relief mission, the group spent considerable time doing yard work for an elderly woman who was unable to care for her own property.Holland debriefed the group after they returned to the island.They had a great time, he said. They talked about serving, about doing something positive, and about how they loved everybody during that week.Then he challenged them:I said, 'What of those things can't we do on the island? Turn off your television and go to a next-door neighbor's house. We'll find people right here that can use our help, and that would really love to talk to us and tell us their stories.'Holland said that he was involved in church as a child, but lapsed into inactivity after his family moved to Poulsbo when he was in sixth grade. The North Kitsap High graduate got involved again at UW through fraternity friends and the campus ministry at University Presbyterian.For a little over a year, he volunteered for youth work at the university church, then took a paid internship. When the Rolling Bay position became available, he and wife Becky moved to Bainbridge. He started work June 19.My goal is to empower young people to live out their faith in day-to-day life, Holland said. They are not just the church of the future, but the church of the present. Youth does not equate to an inability to make a difference.At St. Barnabas, the impetus to add staff was internal. The compact sanctuary frequently could not hold everyone who showed up for Sunday morning service.Instead of rebuilding the building, for which there wasn't a lot of enthusiasm, we are considering having more than one service, said Joseph Tiernan, St. Barnabas rector, as the priest-in-charge is called. And I was stretched too thin.So the church decided to hire an assistant rector. And once that decision was made, Honig-Smith was an obvious candidate.I had previously met with the parish education committee to talk about ways to integrate the youth into the church community, said Honig-Smith, who was a clinical social worker before beginning her study for the priesthood. So when it came time to look for a job, I knew this was one place the might need my skills.The church search committee decided to conduct weekend-long interviews with candidates, and Honig-Smith was the first to be scheduled.They called me Monday morning after that first weekend and said the search was over, Tiernan said.Honig-Smith, raised and educated in St. Louis, Mo., moved to Portland in the mid-1980s. She then took a job in Sacramento, Calif., that was so bad it created a life crisis.I knew that God was calling me to do something, but it took me a few years to figure out what I was being called to do, she said.Ultimately, she decided to enter the priesthood. After earning the endorsement of the Episcopal Church in Bend, Ore., where she was living, she began the three-year course of study leading to ordination.She spent a year at Seattle University, then two years at a divinity school in Berkeley, Calif., commuting on weekends to Longview, Wash., where husband Tom was living.She joined the St. Barnabas staff in mid-July.She believes the Episcopal Church, with its emphasis on ritual and tradition, is off-putting for many young people.The structure that is so attractive to people familiar with it can make it difficult to reach people not familiar with it, she said. Particularly young people, because some of the language is archaic.But she sees an openness among the young.They are interested in spirituality, she said, and they want to be around adults other than their parents.Honig-Smith wants to break down the traditional notion that youth ministry is somehow separate from the church's main focus. The challenge is to not separate the ministry for youth from the ministry for the community, she said. And similarly, she will spend the next few months integrating her former job skills to her new calling.I'm learning to see how the strengths and skills of my previous work can benefit people in their experience of developing a relationship with God and being a member of a church community, she said."

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