"Holy Week is a remarkably powerful spiritual week. Provide time and space for young people to be immersed in a quiet Sabbath time and space. Invite them to hear the whisper of God."
Holy Week with Youth
Holy Week is a powerful time to stay current and connected to your youth. Consider together the ways in which Christian discipleship calls us to go to the cross. What are the crosses young people will need to bear in the twenty-first century? As we walk with Jesus through Holy Week, practice noticing all kinds of people and responding to them as Christ in them.
Invite your youth to participate in the activities of your faith community throughout this week. Offer them opportunities to lead in worship. Have them begin the journey with Jesus, following his path to Jerusalem through prayer – either with others or in solitude. As Jesus washed the disciples feet, we are called to follow his example as we humbly care for one another, especially the poor and unloved. At the Lord’s table we remember Jesus’ sacrifice of his life, even as we are called to offer ourselves in love for the life of the world. Plant the cross on your heart and the youth you minister with, so that in its power and love all can continue to be Christ’s representative in the world.
7 Suggestions for Holy Week with Youth
The following ideas are offered by two experienced youth ministers: Santi Rodriquez from Christ Church Alexandria, Virginia; and Cookie Cantwell from St. James Parish in Wilmington, North Carolina.
1. Focus on Jesus
Holy Week is a time to help our youth ponder the final stage of Jesus' earthly journey. As the story unfolds, attention is sharply focused upon Jesus. We want our young people to look at Jesus, to spend time with Jesus, and to learn from him. It is our duty to help to create the time, the space, and the atmosphere for teenagers to profit from their time with Jesus. On Palm Sunday, during the Liturgy of the Palms, invite the youth to welcome Jesus into the Jerusalem of their lives. Urge them to use their imagination during the reading of the Passion to contemplate the Passion, death and Resurrection of the Lord. (S.R.)
2. Create Space
Ponder ways that youth can disconnect from their busy lives so they can connect to the Way of the Cross. Holy Week is a remarkably powerful spiritual week. Provide time and space for young people to be immersed in a quiet Sabbath time and space. Invite them to hear the whisper of God. As adults accompanying our youth, this is an important week to live into what we say we believe. When teens see us creating space within our busy lives to encounter and recognize our Living God, we show them that we believe what we teach. (C.C.)
3. Do a Hands-on Project
Encourage your youth to participate in a hands-on project that will help someone else celebrate the joy of Easter. This year our 6th – 12th graders are creating 100 Easter Baskets for the children of our migrant farm workers and are filling 1000 plastic Easter eggs to be used within the Migrant Farm Workers Easter Sunday Celebration.
When Easter season arrives, consider an outreach opportunity to illustrate our commitment to becoming the “hands and feet of Christ.” These are short-term projects: feed the hungry, collect money to help provide clean water for a village, work in a homeless shelter, tutor a group of children, volunteer to repair someone’s home who is struggling, visit people within your community who are lonely or housebound. (C.C.)
4. Provide Questions to Ponder
Holy Week is a time to invite, to encourage, and to propose. Create a handout with the questions you want youth to reflect on. Make posters. Create a special youth-bulletin or mini devotional for the week. We might be tempted to believe teens are not interested – or that they have no time, or that the liturgies do not speak to them. We might be tempted to just do business as usual. That is a poor plan of action.
The best way to engage our youth in Holy Week is to invite them to join us in a vivid contemplation of the life, Passion, death, and Resurrection of our Lord. Previous attempts that didn't work might be because the questions we asked did not engage our youth. Instead, ask them to consider what questions they would like to ask Jesus as he journeys on the way of the cross. And then walk the way of the cross with the youth. Be present. Be available. Help them to follow Jesus; so that this Holy Week will be a season of new life in Christ. (S.R.)
Create a calendar where scripture is offered for each day of Holy Week, and encourage teens to keep a journal to record thoughts, feelings and insights. On Good Friday, gather with youth to recognize the feelings of sorrow, confusion, fear, and loss that the disciples felt. Let them share. Take some time to discuss how they would feel and what they would think if they got to the tomb and it was empty, or if one of their friends told them that “Jesus alive!” (C.C.)
5. Gather During the Week, if Possible
Gather for Bible Study (we meet at 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning) and discuss the events that Jesus, his disciples, and the people of Jerusalem encountered. Help your group process their thoughts and feelings. We do a Lectio Divina method so that youth are intentional about encountering the Living Word. Invite your youth to a “Meet Me” in an upper room to participate in a Last Supper and foot washing experience. You can do a “Meet Me” once a month… our kids love meeting in a variety of places throughout our community: such as “Meet me.... at the Tower.” We climb up in the tower and talk about a new perspective. (C.C.)
Pair an adult and a young person to pray for one another through Lent or during Holy Week. We do this during Lent and the teens don't know who the adults praying for them are. The adults write notes of encouragement throughout Lent. On Palm Sunday, we have a luncheon where the prayer partners are revealed. Deep, long-lasting relationships are formed! (C.C.)
Holy Week is a time to pray for our youth – and to pray with our youth. Let them know you are available. Tell them that you are praying for them; and that you will be praying with them. (S.R.)
7. Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter: Invite Invite Invite... Encourage Encourage Encourage
On Good Friday, lead young people or help them to lead the Stations of the Cross. Encourage them to partake in the Good Friday liturgy. On Holy Saturday, help the youth to prayerfully spend time in the empty tomb; this is something they can do at church or home. Ask them to be honest with themselves about their fears and hopes. Are they afraid that God has forsaken them? Do they dare to hope that God has a plan for them? (S.R.)
Easter Morning…. How about a Sunrise Service at the beach, in a tower, on a mountain….. in any place they can witness the sunrise with an Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! (C.C.)
During the Easter Vigil or on Easter, invite your youth to ask for the grace of the peace and joy of the Resurrection. Encourage them to consider how much they are loved by God, and how our loving God is inviting them to be agents of Resurrection in the world. Remind them that we are an Easter people and that Alleluia is our song! (S.R.)
The introduction of this article is from “The Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education, 3rd edition” (Morehouse Publishing, 2009) by Sharon Ely Pearson and Robyn Szoke.
Santi Rodriguez is the Youth Minister at Christ Church Alexandria in Virginia. He specializes in spiritual formation and the relationship between prayer and social media. He is married and has a son, age 8. You can follow Santi on Twitter @sayochia, and read more of his work at peekaboowithgod.blogspot.com.
Cookie Cantwell is the Youth Ministries Coordinator at St. James Episcopal Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. In addition to enjoying her ministry among youth, Cookie also enjoys her family, hiking, kayaking, needlepoint and reading.