I am beginning my seventh year with the youth group. The makeup of the youth group changes slightly yearly, as the older youth move on and the younger youth become part of the group. I have seen some parents every year, as the older children graduate from high school and the younger siblings have become part of the youth group.
Some things have not changed. The pressures that the young people face have not changed, nor decreased in intensity. Their spiritual needs remain the same. But as the youth have more to do and less time in which to do it, the youth group has had to be more than just another social group. The youth group leadership has become more intentional with our time and meeting content. We work with parents to find the right balance of number and type of activities. And we want to address their spiritual needs through our activities.
Activities span a broad spectrum: from indoor (a game night) to outdoor (a nature walk in the woods); from not weather dependent (an overnight retreat) to weather dependent (e.g. skiing/snowboarding, with a backup plan, too); from local (e.g. rake & run service project) to not so local (overnight retreat at a monastery); from serving adults (literally, as at a church dinner) to serving the little ones (providing child care for the parents). Throughout the church calendar we also celebrate liturgical events such as Advent, Christmas and Lent. The goal is to have fun, to build healthy relationships and to provide a setting where issues and questions can be discussed and needs can be met.
Youth group is not limited to those who only attend Grace. Many of the youth have invited their friends to various activities, not just once but on multiple occasions.
In addition to what we do during the school year, we have a periodic big summer activity every other year. On years divisible by 4, there is a pilgrimage to England. On the intervening even years, there is a week-long service project. In 2014 it was gleaning food (from as small as tomatoes to as large as watermelons) in Arkansas; the food would be donated to the local food pantries. In 2018, it was working on an urban farm in Detroit (weeding, spreading mulch, working with other groups). These service projects seem to occur during the hottest part of the summer. J One of the key objectives is service, but another is community building.
What I have to bring is outweighed by what the youth have to offer, each young person in his or her own way. My primary goal is to listen to them deeply, to help them build character and confidence. If we view the youth as being on a journey in the process of maturing, then the Grace youth group is a way station, providing respite, refreshment, and encouragement along the way.
Submitted by: Howard Huyser