What I Learned from a Group of Unruly Youth


Will Rowan, a youth minister in Alberta, Canada, learns from an unexpected outcome in a prayer workshop for high school students.

During the spring of 2003, I was part of the “Littlemore Roadshow” bringing workshops to high schoolers in rural Alberta. We were scheduled to work with seventy eleventh graders in Wainwright – a group so difficult most of their teachers had given up on them. But their reputation did not concern me. “I am an experienced youth minister,” I thought, “capable of handling any challenge.”

We arrived at a resort in the middle of the prairies to organize a class retreat and train students as peer leaders. Immediately, I sensed what the teachers had warned us about. Each session brought insults to my team and the peer leaders. No one wanted to participate. It was the longest six hours of my life.

As the day ended, the student leaders were to offer a dramatized prayer they had practiced for two weeks. In theory, this would be the action that pulled the class together. In theory! When the youth learned they were expected to pray the room erupted in yelling and swearing. Some threatened to leave. My head was pounding. I had completely lost control. My reputation as a youth minister was ruined.

Just then, one of the team members took control. She plainly stated there would be a prayer service. All were welcome. Anyone who felt unable to participate properly was asked to politely leave the room. Immediately, fifty students walked out. I started to cry. I had failed.

A colleague nudged me. There were still twenty people in the room, including the leaders, and they wanted to proceed with the prayer service. Once it was over, something happened that changed my outlook on ministry forever. Those twenty walked outside among their peers and shared the prayer without any direction or prompting. Weeks later, I learned this action had a lasting effect on the class. And I had nothing to do with it.

I thought I could win over a difficult group of kids with my charisma alone. My experience was quite humbling. But in the end the retreat was a success. It was all God, working through those students.

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About Author

Will Rowan is youth ministry coordinator at St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Parish in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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