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An affair to consider

Your church’s youth group is booming thanks to two energetic adult volunteers. Both leaders are married, but one afternoon you see them leaving a motel together. The youth have spent a year fundraising for an exposure tour to Peru. They leave in a month. What do you do?

By Connie denBok and Bob Giuliano

What is a tolerant, 21st-century church leader to do? Judge? Defy the spirit of the age? Ignore the issue and hope it goes away? Assume our leaders are fundraising the cost of the trip by moonlighting as chambermaids?

We start with our purpose for youth ministry: to develop a faith framework for understanding the world and life values that hang on the framework; hence the exposure trip to Peru. I assume the trip has been planned to expose our youth to the grinding poverty of many and the wealth of few.

A faith framework says the counterbalance to selfish exploitation is covenant relationship with God. It means right relationships with one another, with institutions and nations, and the Earth. Marriage is a covenant relationship. Many of our youth carry the pain of parents who found covenant love and faithfulness problematic. Youth ministry offers an alternate future to them.

When I meet with our leaders together, I will gently tell them what I saw and then I’ll listen. The best-case scenario is a plausible explanation. Next best would be gratitude for the opportunity to reflect on marriage covenants, the fickleness of sexual attractions and the impact on those who look to their leaders to show them faith and life.

I fear that is faint hope. More likely they will be embarrassed and react with denial, anger or withdrawal — none of which bodes well for an impending trip. They may go to the youth or parents or the congregation looking for allies to justify their love, or to take their side against unfair accusations.

Once it hits the fan, no one will want to reflect on how a broken covenant relationship has damaged the youth, two families and the church community. The trip has been planned to build a framework for life and faith in youth, not around the needs of their leaders. We will hope for the best, but I am prepared to find two new chaperones for the trip. And I am prepared to spend as much time as needed with these two dynamic leaders to rebuild what has been damaged.
Author's photo
Rev. Bob Giuliano is a retired minister who lives in Owen Sound, Ont.

I’ve known these folks for a long time. I trusted and encouraged them. I know their spouses and their own children, too. I am angry and disappointed. I also wonder if I overlooked symptoms that were setting them up for trouble. There should always be at least three youth leaders. Why didn’t we do that?

This is a family problem. A church family problem. When youth leaders violate the love and trust that kids place in them, all hell breaks loose. Kids are hurt and disappointed. They begin to squabble among themselves. Some start imitating their leaders. It can get very divisive.

Maybe the parents have heard hints from their kids about this romantic stuff between the youth leaders. Young people look for vibes like that. They are not stupid. I should not assume that I am the first to spot the problem. Parents are going to be mad though. Maybe at me.

I also know that when I see someone in a compromising moment, it is very likely that they saw me, too. So we are already in this together. It is their problem and mine. This trouble in our community is more important than the trip to Peru. As a matter of fact, this is itself “an exposure tour,” which our teens and our congregation must all make. From these crises we learn and grow up in the Gospel. So, I bring the couple together.

What do they plan to do about their relationship? Their spouses and children? How do they propose to explain this to the teens as well as their own families? How can I help them in this process?

Then I call a meeting of the Session to help me deal with the hurt in the church and maybe save the trip. These two leaders cannot go, but there are always others who can do a good job and are often willing at times like these.

We are on a journey now of Christian living and learning together. Our motto, “no secrets,” will be sorely tried, but will give us truth for facing reality honestly and hope for eventual reconciliation.
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