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The Scared

Hannah Bowden

15 May, 2024


Following on from reflecting on Springtide’s The Sacred research in Vol.27 of The Story, it feels pertinent to continue thinking about the concept of the ‘sacred’ and what this means in youth ministry. So, here’s some further insights into defining this term, its importance, and how to support young people in developing a sense of ‘sacred sensibility’.


How is ‘Sacred’ Defined?

The concept of the sacred has been something I have since been pondering on. This pondering was accelerated by a journal article about theorising sacred spaces in an educational context and listening to Jonathan Haidt speak with Elizabeth Oldfield on her Podcast series The Sacred.

There are many ways to define the term ‘sacred’. In the table below, are a few of the offered definitions:

Sacred: ‘Things that people set apart from the mundane as having a spiritual character and significance’.

Sacred Moment: ‘an experience or encounter where you feel connected with something greater than yourself, in awe of nature and creation, grateful for your existence, or deeply connected to humanity, the universe, or a higher power’ The Sacred, Springtide

Sacred Space: ‘The collective use of physical spaceorchestrated within a building that is specifically designedto facilitate religious corporate practice’ Gold (2006:75) used in Parker (2009) article

“inviolable. Biblically it means set apart” Jonathan Haidt on The Sacred Podcast

“fundamental precious things which no amount of moneythat someone could offer you would make you give themup. We don’t react to attacks on these things rationally butsometimes irrationally…we are often unconscious aboutthe things we hold sacred and that makes it hard tounderstand what other people hold sacred…A set ofthings…we would sacrifice for”. Elizabeth Oldfield, The Sacred

Which definition resonates with you most? What feels sacred to you in general terms?

For me, Elizabeth’s definition feels the most practical – if there were an ‘attack’ on my husband, dog, family, my home, I certainly don’t think I would react rationally. Moreover, all the definitions together have started me thinking about what feels sacred to me in a faith context, I would certainly consider church as a sacred space and I can think about lots of times I have experienced sacred moments in relationship with God.

What feels sacred to you in a faith context? What are some of the characteristics of your sacred spaces and sacred moments in relationship with God?

Why is the Sacred Important?

We are all aware now of the decline in young people’s engagement with organised religion, or the Church (big C). It feels important, therefore, that we identify and press into the things that young people do identify with as a way in which to encourage them to develop a relationship with God and be supported by a church community as they do so.

In their research, Springtide found that most young people believe in a higher power, consider themselves religious or spiritual, and are experiencing sacred moments. In response to this finding, we offered the following food for thought in The Story (vol.27):

Are we are seeing a landscape where young people are more open to sacred moments and the presence of a higher power in their lives?

Given young people’s desire for uncontrived sacred moments…how do we as youth workers help them develop a sacred sensibility in an authentic way? One that doesn’t feel like it’s about formulas or pre-planned encounters but perhaps instead is about developing their sensitivity to what God is already doing around and in them?

In this way, thinking about the sacred feels like an important concept in youth ministry. As youth workers, part of our role is to help young people develop a sense of sacred sensibility, in a Christian context, guiding them through what sacred means, what is sacred to them, and how they might become sensitive to the work God is doing in and through their lives.

How Do We Help Young People Develop a ‘Sacred Sensibility’?

‘Sacred sensibility’ is defined as:

“a broader posture that enables them [young people] to do the following: See something as sacred, appreciate its value as such, respond with openness to exploring its meaning and significance in one’s life.” (Springtide, 2024).

Here are some ideas of questions and activities you might do to help develop this aspect of the sacred in young people’s lives:

Help young people to understand what is meant by ‘sacred’

  • Ask young people what they understand the term ‘sacred’ to mean
  • Offer different definitions of sacred and ask them to break these down – what feels useful? What don’t they understand? What do they (dis)agree with?
  • Get them to consider and reflect on the different things which feel sacred to them – can you think of a creative activity through which they can do this?
  • Read different Bible verses in which the term sacred is used (e.g., Psalm 15:1) – help them to consider what sacred means in relationship with Jesus. How could they try to experience sacred moments in their own walk with Jesus?

Facilitate authentic spaces in which young people might experience sacred moments

  • Have an evening where young people can sit in quiet spaces, listen to worship music, walk around prayer / reflection stations
  • Give young people the autonomy over the spaces in which they reside – what is important to them?
  • These moments should be designed to offer young people connection whether that with themselves, their peers, and/or Jesus (dependent upon their current faith orientation).

Can you think of other ways in which you might help young people develop a sense of sacred sensibility within your context?

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