PYCC (or my new awesome extended family)
As I started my job with PSL, we (as in me and my advisory board) began to throw around this idea of a youth council. First of all, let me preface this by saying that PSL only had a youth coordinator position for about a year before I was hired. So everything down here is new. Very new. Anyway, when I began my job in early August, the idea of a youth council was brought up. As I was exploring what this could look like for a presbytery that is smaller (about 50 churches) and very spread out (it takes about 4.5 hours to get from New Orleans to Lake Charles) one of the board members sent me information about the youth council in New Covenant Presbytery. Maybe it was purely luck, I like to think it was more than that, the name on the front of the packet was one I am very familiar with: Caressa Holloman.
Just a little bit of background, Caressa's aunt is the pastor at my home church in Dallas. Her uncle was the assistant director at Synod Youth Workshop the year I was on planning team. Her husband was my small group leader one year at SYW and her parents did all the behind the scenes planning for SYW while I was attending in high school. When the packet was presented to me I knew Caressa pretty well, maybe not as well as most of the rest of our family but to say that our paths crossed on occasion would be an understatement.
Naturally I sent Caressa an email just asking for a feel of how PYCC works. It's a youth council that has existed for a very long time and led a successful weekend retreat for all of the youth in New Covenant. Through out the conversations I was invited to attend the planning retreat for PYCC back in late August (or early September, I can't quite remember).
PYCC is the youth council in New Covenant Presbytery (so Houston area plus some). Every church is eligible to nominate 1-4 youth to be on the PYCC. Every spring the entire council nominates 2 youth co-moderators for the following school year. In addition to youth there is a whole score of adults who volunteer their time and talents, so there are also 2 adult co-moderators (or co-mods for short) as well as adults that help with the various teams. The youth are broken up into a bunch of different teams, with an adult and a youth serving as the team leaders. In turn, all of these wonderful people put on a retreat in late February called Conclaves. The youth not only lead music, come up with the theme, perform keynote skits, lead worship, come up with a mission idea, take care of all the a/v and lead rec, they also all serve as small group leaders. Pretty neat in my opinion. All of the adults provide guidance, but in general try to be as hands off as possible. They basically serve as an awesome support system.
I went in August and had an amazing time. I picked their brains about what works, what doesn't work, what seems to be the key to PYCC (I'll get to that in a minute), how the teams are decided, how they come up with the theme, how many meetings they have every year etc. I had so much fun getting to know the youth and adults. Seriously, it was a great weekend. It was so great in fact that when Caressa invited me to come back for Conclaves (their all youth retreat in the spring), I couldn't say no. I had the opportunity to see all the plan, now was my chance to see them all in action.
Conclaves is all sorts of awesome. First of all Camp Cho-yeh is a well run retreat facility. I was so impressed by their staff, their buildings and by the activities they offered. Secondly, it was amazing to see so many youth in leadership positions. When I was told that high schoolers got to lead small groups with other high schoolers in that I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical. That was silly. The youth on PYCC did a great job in all aspects. I swear, I'm not exaggerating. They have tons of energy and are so excited. The theme was on point, the activities were engaging, all 250 people in the room were interested in what was going on. Not only that, the adults were so generous with me. I had multiple people offer to come to New Orleans to help me get my own council together. Seriously, these people are already volunteering for PYCC and they want to help me get my own program off the ground in their free time. How amazing is that?
So, what makes PYCC so successful (in my humble opinion):
1. The youth are nominated by their home churches. As Caressa put it, these churches know the youth best. Also it creates a system of accountability for not only the youth, but also for the home churches. It's one things when a youth is picked from a stack of applications, it's another when session has to take the time to nominate a youth to represent their congregation. This model impresses an extra layer of responsibility on the youth while also involving the home congregation.
2. There is a core group of youth sponsors who are willing to give up a handful of weekends throughout the year to be on PYCC. In my experience you're more likely to have a stressful youth event because of adult sponsors, not youth (not all the time, but most of the time). Having a core group of adults that support and serve as the leadership and are truly dedicated make a world of difference is integral.
3. The youth maintain a lot of control. Don't get me wrong, the adults are clearly key assets to PYCC, but the youth did a lions share of the work. It was truly inspiring to see how much high schoolers can do if you just give them the space to do it. Seriously, instead of micromanaging, the youth were given the space to make the important decisions. I keep relearning that youth will surprise you in the most wonderful ways. 9 out of 10 times they will basically kick your ass with how awesome they are.
Speaking of youth kicking ass, the two youth co-mods, Danielle and Marco, gave the sermons at the Sunday worship service. They were both completely different in their presentation and they were both wonderful. They were insightful and personal, connecting with everyone in the room, (confession, I may have texted my dad saying: "I think my crisis of faith just got its ass kicked by an 18 year old").
Thank you PYCC for taking me in! I feel like I have an awesome extended family in New Covenant Presbytery. You all are awesome. I learned a lot and I hope that someday PSL's future youth council can work with ya'll. Wouldn't that be great?