Should the church support and pay for youth to attend expensive programmes such as EFY? And are such programmes beneficial for youth? Today’s guest post is by Jake, a former U.K. EFY Counselor.
The Especially for Youth (EFY) program has a long history in the US, having been established for over 50 years. Here in the UK it has a far shorter history since its recent inception in 2006. In its global spread, it has experienced a significant shift in its purpose and relationship with the church. It has moved from a private gospel-based, semi church-endorsed enterprise, to an explicitly church-sanctioned and run programme in multiple countries and languages. Local stakes are prohibited from trying to replicate any similar competing programmes.
I should point out that I think that EFY has a powerful force for good upon its participants and all those involved in running it. It is clear to me having been involved in multiple EFY’s that the simple experience of attending an activity with over 500 youth significantly helps to fortify the faith of those involved. It allows those who attend to realise that they are not alone, and the shared experience helps give them strength in their beliefs. In England where it is common for a ward to have only 3-10 youth, most who are vastly different in ages and tastes, attending separate schools, attending EFY can be a life-changing experience. Youth in the U.K. usually experience the gospel as isolated individuals with only church membership in common with peers. They simply do not get to see peers of their own age and of similar interests who share the same beliefs very often.
For me personally growing up I was always the only member in my school, and in youth there was no one my age. As a result I struggled to feel like I really belonged. Church seemed like it was just for old people and weirdos. Only as I travelled around and saw other wards and stakes did I discover that I was not alone.
That said, I do have a series of concerns about EFY. Some of these relate to it as a general programme, and some relate in particular to the way in which it is adminstered in the UK and Europe.
First, the issues with the general programme. EFY first became popular in the UK when rich parents started to send their wayward children in an attempt to reform them with a dramatic spiritual experience. Sometimes this worked; sometimes it didn’t. The thinking was that this one life-changing experience would redeem and protect the youth from temptation in the future. But faith is not created overnight. It is my experience that faith is built over time. It is vain to try and create long lasting change through a short but intense programme. I do not doubt that in some cases Damascus experiences and Alma the Younger style conversions happen at EFY, but those I have seen experience this have reverted to their old ways when they returned to the original environment. Temporary surroundings make for temporary changes
Next, whilst I do not doubt the sincerity of those who run the programmes, it seems to be an attempt to manipulate the spirit and force spiritual experiences. The thinking goes that it is possible to follow a set pattern laid out in the EFY handbook to manufacture a spiritual environment. The Lord did say that He is bound when we do what he says, but this does not mean that we can control how He sends forth His Spirit. One method to create a spiritual environment at EFY is by enforcing rigid laws and codes. One of my youth pointed out that Jesus would never be allowed to attend EFY because he failed the dress and appearance code. Do we really think that someone’s hairstyle, piercings and facial hair will impact their ability to feel the spirit? Perhaps early church members and leaders made so many errors because they had too much facial hair, so they couldn’t fully have the spirit with them.
EFY also promotes sentimentalism, and superficiality over substance. It creates an adrenalin fueled atmosphere with its chants, songs, cheers, and emotional energy, all of which are easily confused with the spirit, especially by impressionable youth. A participant once remarked that he thought it resembled a Nuremberg Hitler Youth rally. Such high-charged environments can make it more difficult to discern exactly what the feelings of the spirit are. As a result, many youth confuse sentiment for spirit. Is this really the strong foundation we want to create for our youth?
Some of my other concerns relate to its place in the UK and Europe. EFY was produced in America, and as a result it is steeped in American culture. Although the UK and US share the same language, there is a greater cultural gap than many realise. Some things included in EFY simply do not make sense or resonate with the UK saints. One such example is the “Cheer.” The UK we simply does not have cheerleaders, so nobody knows what a cheer is. It was quite entertaining this weekend watching a bunch of English people compose an American style chant/cheer having no idea what one was. The result was a strange combination of awkward clapping, and modified Queen and primary songs, sung badly and self-consciously.
The second cultural difference is the fact that EFY is cheesy. A phrase used in counselor training is “embrace the cheese.” However, Brits resist brash over-the-top expressions of emotion or cliche phrases; it simply is a very unnatural form of expression for a British person. The hyper-sensational chants and excitement that EFY thrives on puts English people off and distracts participants from the purpose. It is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable cultural language. Awkward.
The biggest difference between EFY programmes here and in the US is that they are not run by BYU but are run directly by the church. This changes many programme dynamics. For instance, session director is a church calling not a paid job. They, along with the coordinators, are set apart by the area presidency. Likewise, all counsellors are unpaid and called and set apart by their bishop. This raises a whole separate issue; counsellors apply for a ‘calling’ and then (for the most part) selection is based on friendship. Since when did we apply for a calling and then interview for them like a job?
Because it is run directly by the church and not BYU, it is not run for profit. It is here that the controversy surrounding EFY really emerges. EFY is heavily subsidised by the church. The cost per head to attend in the UK is £350. However, most of this cost is covered by the area presidency, with the published cost being £165. This is still expensive when the goal of the area presidency is to have every youth to have the opportunity to attend twice in their lifetime. To further subsidize the cost is then split between the parents and the ward so that only £65 is paid by the participants and £100 comes from the ward and stake budget. This is a large amount of money for a ward, and it is taken regardless of whether the youth attend.
I can’t help wonder why the church will subsidize EFY yet not pay for people to travel to temples and get ordinances of salvation?
While EFY is an investment in the youth, one with benefits in future loyalty and leadership, can it be done in a way that resonates with local cultures and doesn’t confuse sentiment and enthusiasm for the spirit? What do you think of EFY? Is it a worthwhile investment? Do you agree with the proposed changes? Did you attend EFY? Discuss.