It All Starts Now

by Charlotte Long, Youth Ministries

It is a strange time of year, full of closings and openings. All the new plants from spring tell us to go-go-GROW! While the warm sun tells us to chill the heck out. There are garden parties and fundraisers and lacrosse championships. And yet school has come to a close. In the yearly church cycle, we have a faux sort of ending, what with there being no church school or adult forum - though summer church is a sweet and glorious thing and I recommend you all try it. In Youth Group, we have an odd closing-beginning tension as well. The Youth Group year is over, but it ended with a bang - our yearly trip to Appalachia to make homes "warmer, safer, dryer"TM, this year to Magoffin County, Kentucky. As always, it is actually a beginning for many of us: a crash course in how to live in Christ; a reminder that God is in all things, including us. This year we had Confirmation for Jr. High as well - an end to their classes, but a beginning to their life in the church as adults. The cycles of our year are all about endings and beginnings, death and life - and holding up both as a connection to God.

I've written about it before and I'll write about it again: spiritual exploration is good for our teenagers. Delving into a relationship with God can include meditation, prayer, inquiry and journaling. All of these practices have been known to increases the brain's gray matter density, which can reduce sensitivity to pain, enhance your immune system, help you regulate difficult emotions, and relieve stress. Not to mention that any daily rigorous practice of the above has proven helpful to people with depression and anxiety, cancer, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. TRUTH.

And communities of support and acceptance are *crucial* to a young person's development and sense of self. The world relentlessly tells teenagers - and will continue to tell them into adulthood, as we all know - all of the ways that they must be: be successful, but be generous; follow your dreams, but follow the right ones that leads to a secure lifestyle; follow your heart, but don't make mistakes; be yourself, but don't be too weird; serve the community, but also throw parties; be humble, but be confident; your best is enough, but be better than others. Where in all of that is there room for them?? Where is there room for God?

Of course, God is already IN all of that. But rarely do we have the tools to hear or see God or invite God further. Church life is many things, and is as flawed as the humans who run it. Because of Grace, however, it is also as perfect as God wishes for it to be. It is a place that can hum with direction and guidance, the Spirit's voice whispering to us constantly in the form of a Wednesday communion or shouting at us during the Parish Picnic. It is a place where God can sometimes be made easy. A pick-up location to re-offer yourself if you've momentarily forgotten God somewhere along the week. Sometimes I even think of a church community as a spa for the soul; it's tacky, but think about it in a metaphor form! A physical outreach project can be a rough rub-down for our stiff muscles. A challenge in the community or a member that needs our lifting up is like a cardio work-out for the soul. And a moment of still prayer and thankfulness with 100 other people every Sunday is a soak in the hot tub.

Okay, okay - it's a little silly. But if we taught our teens that they needed a spiritual community as much as we need exercise and the spa...! WOAH would we be filling those pews. And Sunday School rooms would be full.

I invite families with all ages of children to consider this over the coming months. Summer doesn't have to be a time to turn off God - it can be a time to re-commit, and create a vision statement for the kind of relationship you want your family to have in Christ. It all starts now.


In other news, the 5th annual service trip to Appalachian Service Project (ASP) was an incredible success this year! Six youth and 4 adults drove for two days in vans to the beautiful mountains. We stayed in an empty High School with two other huge youth groups from Wisconsin and Cincinnati. We worked at the home for an incredible family (only some of them are in the picture above!) with many children, four generations under one roof, many puppies and baby chicks, a pond with catfish, a somewhat dangerous hike to the cliffs and lots of laughter. We put up new walls all the way around the outside of their home, insulated them and began siding for the next week's group! Our small group of kids mostly new to ASP were such hard workers and great at loving our wonderful Appalachian family. Please keep them in your prayers this summer and always!