By Hilary Harris
My congregation has a huge youth program, ranging from nursery age children all the way to high school and beyond. The nursery school including toddlers and twos has a program that includes activities and play during church and adult classes on Sunday mornings. Included in the Christian Education program for children three and older are two church services, divided by age group, which occur in two separate chapels during worship in the main sanctuary. These services are both lay and clergy-led. During their worship time, the children learn about the significance of the bread and wine and learn how to take Communion. The children then join their parents in the congregation for Communion each Sunday morning. After worship, the congregation then splits up and goes to the many Christian Education offerings offered each Sunday morning. Similar to the children's worship services, Sunday school programs are divided by grade level so that the material they are taught is age appropriate. The programs for children ages three through six focus more on the Bible stories using a curriculum. The programs for children in grades first through fifth are centered on the lectionary used in the congregation's service.
Many of the middle school and high school students participate in worship as acolytes and reading the lessons or prayers. The middle school and high school Sunday school group meets during adult education and spends some of their time each month teaching the classes of the younger children. Much of the activities of the middle school and high school programs are focused on outreach to the congregation and the community. They also meet on Sunday evenings for a social gathering.
The most visible and favorite parish activity for youth is on graduation Sunday. Each May the congregation recognizes the high school graduates with a presentation of a walking stick that has been handmade and engraved with the shield of the church and the graduate's name. It is presented to them as a send-off to know that they will always be prayed for and welcomed home.
The involvement of church members in the daily activities of the congregation gives ownership of the programs to the members and also a connection to the church that is different than just being a member. The contribution of time and talent are important, and sometimes overlooked, aspects of how church members can contribute to the life of the congregation.
Besides the youth programs mentioned here, there are various outreach activities of the congregation that allow members to be a part of their congregation while helping their community. These programs range from an environmentally conscious group, refugee ministries, food pantry and garden, serving meals at a local soup kitchen, to work with the local Habitat for Humanity group. The numerous outreach activities for the members of the congregation encourage involvement within the church and the surrounding community.
What strengths does your congregation have?