Salmon Fishing and Youth Ministry—Casting Lines To Better Engage the Next Generations

image by E. Rowe in Canva

Last summer I tried salmon fishing again. It had been years since my last time, mostly because of my extreme level of failure at the activity. I got a license. I got out my old rod and picked up some flies at Walmart. I found my hip-waders, and I spent some time practicing casting to get the feel for it again. And then I hit the river.

Result: not a thing.

At first, I determined that this was due to poor choices in fishing spots. I had tried to follow guidance from more experienced anglers, but I had no luck at all, and spent hours watching water whisk by with nothing larger than a small trout breaking the surface. “There are no salmon here,” I told myself.

Undeterred I tried out several different fishing spots. And behold! I began to see salmon jumping out of the water, sometimes nearby, sometimes further away. And as a result, I caught…

Still nothing.

In the end I realized that, as an amateur angler, my technique was poor, and my chosen flies were unsuitable to the locations I was fishing. In short, I caught no fish because I did not present anything which they had any interest in.

“There are no salmon here,” sounds a lot like something else I hear frequently as a member of the clergy: “There are no young people here.”

I’ve heard it from parishioners, from vestries, and from other clergy. It seems to be one of the standard laments of the Church, as well as the reason behind failing Sunday Schools and youth programs. “We’d like to have a vibrant youth ministry,” they say, “but there are no youth here.”

It makes me wonder then who all those people at the local school are, and in the local playground, and in the hockey rink. It seems to me that there are young people everywhere, just about. I’m sure there are some small communities where youth are truly absent, but for the most part there seem to be young people all over the place, absorbed in whatever it is that they enjoy doing.

But they’re not in the Church. Why not? Well, are we offering them anything they’re interested in? Or are we poor anglers, convinced of the absence of fish simply because they don’t bother with our flies?

I know the struggle. Getting youth involved in church life is truly difficult. There are so many other anglers on the river, seeking youth interest, that it’s hard to compete. It takes so much energy; and with aging congregations, and aging clergy, it can be a trial to summon up that much energy, time, money, interest, and creativity to make any headway. Perhaps the time is better spent in service to those who are older, and who (by and large) are the ones who keep the church going?

But by doing that aren’t we saying that bringing the Gospel to younger generations is not worth the effort? That the spirituality and love in knowing Christ is, when directed at young people, mostly just seeds thrown on the road, or on rocky ground?

Because there are ways. It takes determination, and it takes sacrifice: often requiring that youth take priority over some traditional ministries that our parishes expect from us. But most of all it takes listening to the needs, wants, and cares of young people today. It means finding what can be offered, and making a real effort to encourage youth to take advantage of it.

And there is a lot out there. In my diocese (Central Newfoundland), a Youth Camp is offered every summer, which is a joy to all who attend. And every year kids only come from the same two or three places. The Anglican Charitable Foundation for Children offers financial aid to children in need, bursaries, and will even help send a child to the aforementioned camp. And often the committee does not even bother to meet, because no applications are made.

Let’s be better anglers. Let’s consider different techniques. Let’s throw the net on the other side of the boat. Because in the end it is not the youth that are left behind… it is us. 

Keep on reading

Skip to content