Q&A with Youth Director Taylor Ory
Quitman, Texas, population 1,800, is best known as the birthplace of Academy Award winning actress Sissy Spacek. However, in United Methodist circles, it is notable as the hometown of TAC’s Director of Congregational Excellence Don Waddleton, and the current residence of an impressive youth director named Taylor Ory. Taylor grew up in Georgetown, Texas and graduated from Mary Hardin Baylor with a degree in Christian ministry. With a passion for changing the world one youth at a time, he arrived in Quitman, Texas in August of 2013, much to the joy of First UMC Pastor Dick White.
Get to know Taylor and learn about his approach to youth ministry through this interview.
Q.) Can you describe the youth group when you joined the staff of First UMC, Quitman?
A.) When I arrived in August they did not have a Sunday night program, so I started one and now we usually have 7-10 students with the majority of those being 7th graders. Wednesday nights prior to my coming averaged around 15-20 youth. Right now we bring in around 27-30 but we have had several nights where there were 35-40 youth in attendance. We now call it Wednesday Night Live! and offer a meal and activities for all ages. Youth participate in a multimedia Bible study series, highlighted by Christian music videos and enjoy it so much they bring their friends.
Q.) What is the best thing about being a leader in youth ministry?
A.) Getting paid to play dodge ball and go to the movies – just kidding! Honestly, it is so rewarding to get youth to take faith into their own hands and then seeing them reach out to others. I have also enjoyed encouraging Sr. Highs to be involved with Jr. Highs. Middle school students consider high school students to be “Rock Stars,” so I am encouraging the older ones to be leaders in this way.
Q.) How do you build trust?
A.) I go to their sporting events, plays, and other competitions. During my first few months here, I was at an event at least four nights a week because I knew that this would be the way to connect with the kids and their parents. I feel like it gives you a better connection with the youth when you can say, "Hey, you have really improved on your serves," or "I really enjoyed the play the other night. That role fits you perfectly!" versus asking them "Hey, how was your game the other day?" It shows them you care when you are able to pull up something personal and show interest in their activities. You also build a good relationship with the parents/guardians when they see you at these events because they see that you really do care about their students. I still try to make a few a week and I do try to make at least one away game or event per year for each because often times the parents can’t make it and it means a lot to the youth when they see that they had someone who was willing to drive x-number of miles to see them.
Q.) What is your involvement in area schools?
A.) We are very privileged in Quitman to get to attend school lunches and events on campus with relatively little hassle. The administration has been very welcoming to youth workers and clergy. Generally, I attend lunch on Wednesdays. The schools here really are great about allowing us in and will often call us if something major happens to give us a heads up, or if they think the kids may need someone to talk to. We really do enjoy getting to do this and it allows us to get to know the youth a little better along with their circle of friends.
Q.) How do you communicate with the youth?
A.) I send out texts and tweets about “Wednesday Night Live!” to remind our students, and I also bring it up on Wednesdays at lunch. I also try to send out an email to our parents at the end of the month outlining our schedule for the next month. Additionally, our church has a weekly phone tree message that goes out to remind members of the congregation about upcoming events.
While all of those are effective at informing our current students, the way we reach new students is through our current students. We have made it a point to emphasize to them that if their faith is important enough to them to set aside time on Wednesdays and Sundays, then it is important enough for them to tell their friends. We have had many students who have taken this seriously and I believe that the personal invitation provided by our students, along with having small groups that are very welcoming and "safe" for the students to share in, are the primary reasons for our growth over the last year. We also have great volunteers on Wednesday nights that have really made an impact on the lives of our students through their support, willingness to listen, and interest in the students that they serve.
Q.) How has First UMC Quitman’s involvement in the Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI) process helped?
A.) VCI training and coaching has opened our eyes. We were pretty content and patting ourselves on the back, so it was a shock to hear that we weren’t as welcoming and friendly as we thought we were. The impact on the youth has been that they started thinking more about outreach and meeting people where they are. For example, they have started thinking more about having community events like Ultimate Frisbee that appeal to newcomers that might need to ‘warm up’ to the idea of church in an indirect way.
Q.) What are your biggest challenges?
A.)Volunteers! So many people say they have “done their time.” I have a struggle challenging those that are stronger in their faith to help out.
B.)Breaking out of the “athlete” clique. Since I was an athlete in high school and look like an athlete, it seems athletic youth are drawn to the group, and I have to be mindful so that others do not feel left out.
C.)My best challenge is getting youth to think about their faith and encouraging them to look up their questions, and be uncomfortable with the world they live in and to grow in their faith. They are living with questions that seem to have no answers and they likely think “somebody else is always right,” having input is unique to them.
D.)This new generation is different because it is hard to predict limitations. Rapid advancement of technology has increased access to the world. Individuals can contact each other through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube -- which can be good and bad. They are a CARING generation because they are actually more emotionally connected with the world in that they hear people’s actual voices rather than someone else’s interpretation of what is happening. In some ways technology is robbing them of their innocence yet they want to make a difference. Two powerful examples of youth in the news that I have shared with my students are:
- End-it Movement which is about Forced Labor and Human Trafficking (http://enditmovement.com/)
- Social Injustices - Example: Edward in Uganda - a young boy abducted by Joseph Kony when he was 13 and forced to kill other children . Kony is a military dictator in Uganda that is abducting children and then brainwashing them (http://invisiblechildren.com/blog/2013/11/04/how-joseph-kony-brainwashes-child-soldiers/)
Q.) How do you celebrate seniors?
A.) Since 1975, First UMC Quitman has hosted a breakfast for graduates, but this year we held our first senior luncheon, catered by the United Methodist Men and that seems to be a popular new tradition.
Q. Where do you go from here?
A.) Youth are a very motivated generation. They know the world needs to be changed, and they just need guidance. I would like to set youth up with mentors in different kinds of environments, not just Sunday School. I would like to find connections of people with common interests, for example: get men who like to do carpentry connected with youth and do things in the community like building wheel chair ramps. My hope is to broaden their worldview, encourage them to seek ways to make a difference, and I pray I am creating an interest of the importance of faith in their lives.