How Youth Are Changing The Face of The Cathedral in St. John’s

Photo of young people at the Cathedral

For years, programs like Canada summer jobs or provincial grants have enabled employers to easily get in touch with youth for seasonal positions in different places. The Anglican Cathedral in St. John’s has sought out these positions for several years, seeking youth to act as tour guides; this year, a new virtual position was created. But how does the program work? What do the tour guides do, and why is it so important to have youth working in the church? These are the questions that Donna Hamilton, tour guide coordinator, and the tour guides themselves were able to answer.

“I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I took it on,” says Hamilton. “At first we had…what, three guides? Then we were lucky enough to get two more and then including [Claire], it was six”. These numbers made the scheduling a lot easier this year. Says Hamilton, “Having the benefit of three extra guides made things a lot easier, and changing the format [helped].” This change in format was the decision to open later in the day enabling more people to visit the building in the evening, especially on days when the pedestrian mall is particularly busy. When it comes to the guides’ work, Hamilton describes it as being the church’s welcome committee. “They welcome visitors into the church, and show them around if they wish—give them some basic information on the church, and answer any questions that come up”. The job also has a cleaning aspect. “Also the presentation of the church—making sure things are tidy and well kept,” says Hamilton.

As for the students themselves, there are five who worked in the building: Eric Steele, Shelby Marshall, Michael Steckley (not interviewed), Liam Butler, and Blaine Pretty. They all had their own interests in the work, their own specialties, and their own favourite parts. When they weren’t making bunny ears or faces behind each other’s heads, they talked at length about their interest in the building, education, and community.

When asked what drew them to apply to be a tour guide, responses varied. Some, like Shelby, Liam and Eric, were already working as musicians in the Cathedral quartet due to their love of music, and were interested in learning more about the history and design of the building. Others, like Blaine, appreciated the opportunities that came with a job that was full of history. “I would choose this job over another job because it gave me an opportunity to one: learn something new, and two: I get to share that new knowledge with other people,” says Pretty, which everyone immediately agreed with. Shelby concurs, saying “I’m excited about [the visitors’] interest in something I’ve put a lot of time into learning”.

This question was followed by a similar one, “What’s your favourite part of working here?”. Again, the responses were varied. Eric Steele enjoys telling people about the stained glass. Liam Butler enjoys talking about the organ, because “I find most of the time when people come in they are taken aback by [it]”. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed shocking people with fun facts and weird information about the building, while Shelby really enjoys learning about the use of music in the church.

Finally, when questioned about some atypical aspects of their job, responses were fairly cheeky, which I suppose is justified. “It’s a building that’s cold, downtown” says Marshall, while Pretty chimes in with “Our uniforms [purple academic gowns] are certainly atypical”. Marshall also described the atypical way that the tour guides could learn from each other. “Listening to anyone else give a tour, they always touch on different stuff than I do, or that I don’t know”.

After all of this, the importance of the summer tour guide positions as a way to engage youth and a very important part of the modern day church culture is plain to see. The Cathedral is very fortunate to have gotten so many positions this year, to the point that the program could even be expanded, including a virtual position where tour information was put on YouTube and Facebook for the public all around the world to enjoy (my position!). Although the tour guiding season is done for the year and the guides are no longer working in the building, their impact and work will continue to have an impact on the Cathedral well into the fall. Our tour program is a very important part of our outreach and ministry, and every student adds more fascination, interest, and heart to our building.

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