Jeff Alexander is youth coordinator at All Saints, Deux-Montagnes.
MD: Jeff, tell us a bit about yourself?
JA: When it comes to the Anglican Church, I'm a lifer. By that I mean I'm still going to the same church (All Saints, Deux-Montagnes) where I went to Sunday school. And that was a good number of years ago, since I'm now 46. In addition to a few other tasks I do there, I'm one of a team of three leaders of the Two Mountains Community Youth Group (TMCYG), with my wife Sophie Lanthier and a dear friend, Kathy Forget. I am blessed to have been married to this wonderful, beautiful woman for 21 years, and we have 2 fabulous children, aged 16 and 8.
MD: How long have you been involved in working with young people and what made you get involved?
JA: Sophie and I have been involved with the TMCYG ever since our son, Julien, joined four years ago, when he started high school. That somewhat answers both parts of your question. As well, the “why” part of getting involved was that I was a Youth Group member at All Saints back a decade or three, so I love being able to help be a leader of what was a great part of my teen years.
MD: It sometimes can be thankless job being a youth leader. What keeps you going?
JA: One of the best things about our current group of teens is that, pretty much no matter what activity we organize, they are right into it. So it's seeing their enthusiasm and craziness that's a lot of fun. Plus seeing the group taking part in events like the 30-Hour Famine (a World Vision program to raise funds and awareness of need in the Third World) is really rewarding.
MD: As a diocese (and across the Church of Canada) we are seeing a concerted effort at prioritizing youth ministry. What advice do you have for the decision makers in our churches?
JA: Hmm, that's a toughie. The first thing that comes to mind is that the youth aren't just our future; they're our present. And they're not just a demographic; they are individuals who just want to fit in somewhere, be accepted, and be part of something that touches them. At conferences and other diocesan get-togethers, I hear people asking how they can attract young people and start up a youth group. It's great that we are recognizing the importance of reaching out to adolescents. I'd say that if congregations really feel a strong pull towards youth ministry, just get it ready — I'm trying to avoid the "build it and they will come" cliché — with the right people in place, and be patient. Remember, too, that God works through relationships much more than excellent programs or fantastic resources.
MD: What “wow” moments have you had in your work?
JA: Recently, Sophie and I were at the banquet for the softball league in which we play, and a mother of one of the Youth Group regulars came up to us. She said, "I don't know what you guys are doing, but please keep doing it." She explained that her daughter — who also started coming to church on her own — was so enthusiastic about being part of the Youth Group, it was apparently having a really positive experience at home, too. Please understand that there's no bit at all of bragging in this; even though the TMCYG is not overtly religious or even spiritual, I know God is working through these teens just being together in His quiet, sneaky way to change them. Like the visiting youth worker from Ireland, Scott Evans, said in his great talk at the last Crossroads youth worship service, we leaders are just the crooked sticks with which God draws His straight lines.
Another “wow” moment of a different sort: One of the teens was in Saskatchewan, mostly on native reserves, as part of the Bible Day Camp traveling team for the first time this past summer. He had just had his hair cut, and Sophie told him after church one morning that the new hairstyle would look really good with his leather jacket, which he always has on. He said, "I don't have it anymore." When she asked what had happened to it, he said matter-of-factly, "I gave it to a boy in Saskatchewan." This teen is from a home where money is pretty tight, and yet he thought nothing of giving it to one of the children on the native reserve where they had held Bible Day Camp. I really feel blessed that I get to spend time at Youth Group with teens like him with hearts as big as tractor-trailers.
MD: On a lighter note, have you had any really embarrassing moments in your work?
JA: Fortunately, nothing really embarrassing, which actually surprises me greatly and certainly is not for lack of trying. At our last 30-Hour Famine, I was sleeping downstairs in the Sunday school area with the boys, and apparently the girls upstairs could all hear me snoring loudly and clearly through the heating system. I think they thought the furnace was going to explode or something.
MD: Last Question: What advice do you have for the synod office in our mission to serve young people.
JA: We have some great programs and (even more importantly) some great people in place with a heart for bringing the Gospel to and living the Gospel with our adults-in-training. We always have a good-sized group to bring into Montreal for Crossroads — thanks, Alex, AJ, Joanne, Luke and others! — and teens from our group have immensely enjoyed the experience of programs like Bible Day Camp and the Youth Ambassador Program. Please keep up this good work!