First Third Conversations

Communities of Creativity: The Role of Symbols in Youth Formation

By Andrew Kellner, CYF MA graduate and CYF Prize Winner 2012

Have you noticed that young people by and large have immersed themselves into a new understanding of communication, through the use of personal electronic devices and social networking tools.  Older generations, with whom youth workers still must communicate, use a very different set of communication tools, and when they do make forays into newer modes of communication, often they utilize these modes, in different ways than their younger counterparts.  The heart of the matter is that young people communicate differently than adults do, and this by its very nature can be a very isolating factor in their lives. Individuals involved in ministry with young people face an every evolving set of communication norms and pop culture references. 

 This differentiation is seen most profoundly when the language and meaning that is conveyed across various modes are examined.  Young people are engaged in a major recreation of meaning, utilizing new signs and symbols of their own creation to express the deep meaning they experience and wish to communicate to others.  They are, by and large, are involved in a creative enterprise that is leaving many of the tried and true signs and symbols of the past, just there; in the past. This shift in semiotics most certainly is not a new endeavor, as each generation has across time adapted and created symbols to express the complex realities they experience in the world.  The difference can be seen, though through the modes utilized in constructing these new signs and symbols, as well as the weight of meaning these symbols are given.

With this in mind is becomes important for the youth worker to develop an understanding of the process of communication at work in the lives of young people.  This will necessitate a keen look towards not only the platforms of communication utilized, but the multiple modes used to create each meaning-carrying message.  Such an exploration will look at color, images, sounds, movements, text and all other components of the multimodal semiotic communication in use today.  This look will need to develop also an understanding of the relationship between those involved in the act of communication, taking into account that the purpose of communication has also shifted.  For this generation, communication can be largely seen as not seeking to impart direct information, but to engage in a dialogue in which ideas and information are shaped and reshaped. 

For the youth worker, this holds a new approach to the ministry of faith formation.  The idea of imparting the faith as a whole unit to be assented to through intellectual thought no longer fits.  In its place is a process of dynamic and creative dialogue, where meaning and faith are shaped and reshaped in the face of a dynamic world and lived experience.  The traditional symbols and signs will need to be placed into dialogue with those widely used today, and the importance of design in how we shape the message of faith will play an increasing role.  Faith formation then is becoming a creative act of a community of creativity.

Read Andrew's full paper:

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