It was probably no surprise to those attending last weeks Growing Young People’s Spirituality conference to hear Rev Dr Philip Hughes of the Christian Research Association (CRA) present his case for people’s happiness being connected mostly to relationships and finding one’s place and purpose in the world. With 500-600 under 30’s committing suicide each year in Australia for the past 10 years it appears this criteria for happiness is being largely unmet in our current education system.

Neither was this comment by Rohan Lewis, lecturer for Youth Studies at Tabor College surprising:

‘To make meaning of our life we are thrown into spirituality.’

What was surprising in the research presented was the above quote from Future Directions International, an independent research institute.  

Dr Hughes noted that Australians are rich in material things, but poor in the spiritual dimension.  And it is this dimension of sharing common core values and spirituality that was correlated to positive physical health, reduction of risk behaviours, increased resilience, improved responsiveness and longevity from recovery programs. It simply pays not to neglect that part of being human that pertains to growing the spiritual person. Education without spirituality does not meet the whole person – particularly the part of humanity so closely connected to general happiness and wellbeing.

Spirituality is sometimes seen as being irrational, but as ABC presenter Rachel Kohn suggested, young people may be seeking to make sense of a pre-rational experience. I like that.  I have often said myself that it took time for my theology to catch up with my experience. A framework is needed to make sense of one’s life and this is an innate desire of the spiritual person. Giving young people a life narrative to work with does not limit them, but allows them to test the boundaries in a healthy way and examine the premise upon which the narrative stands. Not standing on anything at all seems only to breed apathy, hopelessness, despair and a disconnect from knowing one’s place and purpose in life. Identity matters and connects individuals. As Peter Mangold from Access Ministries stated – ‘beliefs and identity are two sides to the same coin’.

Real education teaches the whole person and attempts to answer some of the deeper questions about that part of being human that questions identity. That’s spiritual. So is growing up which seems to take many of us quite a bit longer than it used to.

Karen Dymke of Luther College challenged all at this conference with her presentation on ‘Rites of Passage’. In many other societies a rite of passage marks a transition from childhood to adulthood where greater responsibilities are given and an adult identity is assumed. It was argued that there are no healthy rites of passage in our society and so default rites emerge. These were noted as binge drinking, vandalism, sexual activity, self harm attempts, extreme risk taking and schoolies week. These all say to the young person ‘I’m grown up’. It was encouraging to hear Karen present a much healthier program of Rites of Passage being offered by her College. It was encouraging indeed to see that people are hearing the desire of youth for spirituality in education



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