It’s the day before the Spring Youth Gathering (SYG), and I am taking a day off to rest before spending 40 hours with youth from across the diocese at St. Andrew’s, Elyria. I am resting (intervals of reading, walking in the woods, napping, and watching HGTV) when I get a phone call. “So, we have extra youth coming, about 20 more than expected.” “
No problem,” I said. Our sexton had done the shopping for the weekend that morning – of course. Thankfully, she has the gift of foresight and knows how to prepare for youth groups of any size.
In the weeks leading up to the event, I did not know what to expect. I had volunteered before going to seminary at one of these gatherings and I had been involved in various youth ministries in other dioceses, but I had never been the primary contact person for a parish hosting one. St. Andrew’s had hosted before, and the repeated refrain was one of excitement and gratitude: We love hosting these, and we love seeing all the youth from across the diocese here.That’s how we intend to use our building: to host God’s people of all ages, to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ, and often that’s messy work.
The schedule for the weekend had been worked on tirelessly and had been finalized. The youth would gather at St. Andrew’s and spend Friday night designing t-shirts, after getting in teams. Saturday, we would load up buses and head for Wakeman where the youth would spend the day. Everything was planned out perfectly. Unfortunately, no amount of pre-planning could have prevented the rain that came that Saturday morning. But even with all of the rain, the day was wonderful!
After we loaded the buses and arrived at Bellwether Farm, the youth did rotations of activities for 25 minutes each. They planted onions and more than 40 fruit trees, learned about and interacted with the chickens, and each left a permanent handprint and prayer on the floor of the Worship Barn. After the rotations were finished, we broke for lunch. Bishop Hollingsworth met with the youth and shared stories from the Epsicopal Youth Event last summer.
The bishop, along with a number of youth from our diocese, had visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum which is located on the site of the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building. On the property is a 90-year-old tree that was all but destroyed by the bomb blast. It was not expected to live. However, the American elm, now called the "Surviver Tree," continues to grow and gain strength and vitality. Every year saplings from the "Survivor Tree" are sent out all over the world.
This year, the Diocese was blessed in receiving one of the saplings. The youth participated in planting it in a temporary container until it can be given a permanant home after construction is finalized.
The bishop stated, "My hope is that its presence at Bellwether will provide a vehicle by which our young people can teach and learn about nonviolence and peace, a living expression of the triumph of life over death that is at the heart of our faith."
After the planting, the games began. The rain did not stop the youth from running around playing capture the flag nor did it stop them from having a canoe relay on the pond.
Unfortunately, no amount of willpower was going to make the bonfire happen in the rain. So, we loaded up the buses again and headed back to the church. The youth played indoor games until it was time to eat. As soon as dinner was finished, the games began again. The night finished with four unique prayer stations. After a Sunday morning debrief of the event, the youth held a panel style conversation during worship. They also served during the service as readers and ushers.
So, what was it like to host the Spring Youth Gathering?
The weekend taught me many things. One of them being no matter how much we plan, there are things that are beyond our control. We had to find solutions to problems as they came. How do we handle doubling the number of participants? How do we keep the kids engaged in activities when we are scheduled to be outdoors on a cold, wet day? And, of course, how will we clean up all of this mud? In each of these I was surprised by God’s abundance and the abundance of those willing to help. It was a lesson in organization, time management, and communication. More importantly though, it was an opportunity to learn to pay attention and say thank you.
Some of the most important lessons I learned in seminary are: be willing to ask for help, be ready to say sorry when you inevitably mess up, and remember to say thank you. There are many people who made the weekend possible: the staff at St. Andrew’s who made the space available, the parishioners who prepared and purchased food including those who stayed to clean up after meals and snacks, and all of those who prayed for our youth and volunteers before, during, and after the youth gathering. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you to all who made this weekend possible. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to be in fellowship and prayer, to grow together in worship and games, and to build bridges and relationships across our diocese. We have truly received grace upon grace.