When I was in high school, I played volleyball. I managed the basketball team. I was in pep band, marching band, and concert band. I was part of a special mentoring group that met on late start days. I was in a service club. I was part of an education class that had early morning and after school meetings and commitments. I was in AP classes that had early morning extra classes. I took AP and college Spanish classes throughout high school. I tutored at the middle school my mom taught at. I was a busy girl at my inner-city school in Tacoma, Washington.
But I also remember being at church almost every Sunday morning for worship and Bible Study (many times it was just me and my youth director). I remember being part of youth bell choir and going to church on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I remember being on a synod youth board that did events for the whole synod and met once a month in Southern WA. I remember being on my church council and going to monthly youth ministry committee meetings. And I remember taking the city bus for almost 2 hours, with 3 transfers to get from the south-end of Tacoma to my church on the north-end of Tacoma – because my mom had to work. So if I could get myself to church, she could pick me up after. It wasn’t something that I did because it was convenient. In fact was difficult, it meant asking members of the church to help me make it happen, but it was worth it. I learned a lot about what it means to be in a community – we help each other out!
We did not have a lot of youth in our active youth group. I think part of that was we all went to different high schools around Tacoma and had differing schedules. But I think we were close. One night sticks out in my memory with that group, our youth leaders took us up to Seattle after church. We had lunch, we went to the space needle, and then we went to an evening worship service near the college campus. That experience has stayed with me for many years, and has impacted the way that I do youth group.
We can go out and have fun, we can laugh together, play together, experience new things together. But unless we are praying together and worshiping together, we are missing the thing that makes us different than the bands, the sports teams, the academic classes. If we forget to point out where God is in the midst of us, and hope that the youth see God on their own, then we have forgotten who we are and why we are doing this thing called ministry.
The youth group at Our Saviour’s has grown so much over this last year. The youth have shared a part of themselves with each other that they don’t necessarily share with people at school or even at home. They have created a community that is meaningful for them. They have invited adults to walk on this journey with them. They have shared with each other the highs and lows of life, and have come out the other side of it together. And yet, when someone new joins or when someone hasn’t been able to be present with them shows up, they make space at the table and in the group. They welcome them and include them and invite them to be part of this community.
Tonight we didn’t have youth group because of the weather, and I came home feeling that I have missed these young people. I have missed their stories of what is happening in their lives, I’ve missed their laughter as they share their “inside jokes” from throughout the year, I’ve missed hearing them ask for prayers, I’ve missed hearing how God is at work in their lives.
Yes, these kids can share the many ways that God is at work in their lives, how they have seen and experienced the evidence of God at work, and moments that have brought them wow and aww. Just ask them! They have some AWEsome stories to share!
I am so grateful to have built relationships with these youth, I am excited about getting to welcome the incoming 8th graders next week, I am sad yet thankful about having to send our graduates out, I am delighted to have families that encourage faith at home, and ultimately, I feel lucky to be in this community with these amazing young people!
So what is youth group? For Our Saviour’s, it is a place where youth come together with adults to experience God’s love for them and the world through play, study, food, service, prayer, and worship. Where we gather at the table of Christ to remember that ALL ARE WELCOME, just as you are!