by Rev. Racquel Ray
Assoc. Minister of Congregational Life
In October of 2021, I wrote my first blog for Barrington Congregational Church, UCC on the importance of the presence of children within our congregation. That blog began with, “Children’s presence in the community has been acknowledged from Jesus to today. However, at times, the church failed to recognize the importance and contributions of children in its mission. Here at Barrington Congregational Church United Church of Christ, our young folks are integral members of the community. This is in keeping with the Gospel message.” Today, that reality is alive and thriving at our church.
This week’s Youth Group gathering was SO FUN and SO HOLY and SACRED that the joy expressed on Monday night bubbled over into conversations at a Tuesday early morning rowing group, our staff meeting, and church office conversations. The joy from Monday night is still felt throughout the community conversations all the way to today – Thursday! And, I wanted to tell you all about it!
Youth Group meets every Monday night with few exceptions during the church program year which follows the school calendar. When there is no school, there is no Youth Group. We also scheduled a few weeks away around holidays and school breaks to better support kids and their families as they transition back from those vacations. This year we have 28 gatherings.
When I wrote that first blog 18 months ago, we did not have an active Youth Group. Now, we have 17 young people who have cycled in and out, around and through our group. There are usually a dozen or so with us on Monday nights and they have the flexibility to come and go as needed to support theatre rehearsal, cotillion classes, soccer practice, homework, and family schedules. We meet for ONE hour, serve a simple dinner – usually pizza, and we close with a circle of prayer each week.
You may have heard me say that this is an energetic group! They range in ages, gender identities, abilities, and families. As a whole, they can speak several languages, solve the rubics cube in under two minutes, and speed read. There are artists, athletes, actors, and academics in the group. Those with photographic memories and some with audiographic memories. They are neurodiverse and creative. They have older siblings, younger siblings, friends, and families that they bring with them – OFTEN.
Our Youth have been inviting each other to church, inviting their friends to church, inviting their relatives to church, and making sure their parents bring them on Sundays and Mondays. They text each other to see who is coming to church! And some of them share the same classrooms at school – where they now have church peers to count on when they need support.
The Youth Group parents and chaperones have built a community of support around this ministry! They carpool to bring several families’ kids at once. They help clean up. They visit with one another and bring younger siblings – who beg to participate. We now have a ‘Jr. Youth Group’ with several younger siblings joining regularly.
We’ve exhausted our pizza budget! We ran out of crafts! We use all the leftovers from coffee hour, holiday candy, and church events. We play on the playground, play basketball in Fellowship Hall, we use the stage, we use the kitchen, and we run up and down the halls playing various games throughout our meetings. We fill the building with noise, energy and life! I, personally, get in over 6,000 steps on my fitness device in the one hour!
You may have heard me say, “Children are woven into the fabric of our communities whether neighborhoods, schools or churches. As promised through the Baptismal Covenant the church has received children into the body of Christ. Children are not the future of the church. They are the NOW of the church; full and present members of the Body of Christ.”
There is a formula to church growth, to building the Body of Christ, to loving our neighbors. I believe, one part of that success formula is to nurture children, Youth, and families. As these young people grow up, they will be the confirmation candidates, the graduates, and eventually…way down the road, the newlyweds, new parents, and baptismal parents.
This work is HOLY and SACRED, and it’s messy! Loud! It is kinetic and creative. And, church, I’ve got to tell you – it is AMAZING! The church has a unique obligation to children; to acknowledge, accept and accompany young people (and their parents). And that is visible on Monday nights. And this is the work of the Gospel; finding creative, relevant, and impactful ways to centralize our youngest members.
As our program year closes in a few weeks I would like to commend our FFAYM programs to your attention. As our children and youth are vital to our community, we need your support in our Church School and Youth Ministry efforts. Jubilation Sunday on May 21 will celebrate all of these efforts: Church School and all of its teachers, adult chaperones for weekly Youth Group meetings, O.W.L. facilitators, Confirmation Mentors, and the Sing and Celebrate Children’s Choir. Please prayerfully consider whether God is nudging you to help out? Your ministry on behalf of our younger members will be a great gift to our church! Registrations for next year – including adult volunteers – will begin on Jubilation Sunday!